A study by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine may have found a solution to binge drinking. The researchers demonstrated that a protein which occurs naturally in the brain can lead to suppression of binge drinking. Binge drinking has become a significant public health burden with an estimated cost of $ 178 billion each year.
The research study was published online by the journal Nature Neuroscience on March 9, and implicated a protein called Neuropetide Y which acts on the amygdala, the area of the brain, linked to both stress and reward. Long term binge drinking alters the Neuropeptide Y system suggesting that it may be used as a viable marker to detect alcohol abuse.
“Using a series of genetic and pharmacological approaches we identified how a compound in the brain, Neuropeptide Y (NPY), can suppress this dangerous behavior,” Kash said.
“Specifically, we found that NPY acted in a part of the brain known as the extended amygdala (or bed nucleus of the stria terminalis) that we know is linked to both stress and reward. This anti-drinking effect was due to increasing inhibition (the brakes) on a specific population of cells that produce a ‘pro-drinking’ molecule called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). When we then mimicked the actions of NPY using engineered proteins, we were also able to suppress binge alcohol drinking in mice.
“Finally, we found that this anti-drinking NPY system is altered by long-term alcohol drinking in multiple species, suggesting that this may be either a marker or treatment for alcohol abuse,” Kash said.
“The identification of where in the brain and how NPY blunts binge drinking, and the observation that the NPY system is compromised during early binge drinking prior to the transition to dependence, are novel and important observations,” said study co-author Todd E. Thiele, PhD, professor of psychology at UNC and a member of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. “What is particularly exciting is that these findings suggest that restoring NPY may not only be useful for treating alcohol use disorders, but may also protect some individuals from becoming alcohol dependent,” said Thiele.
NPY signaling inhibits extended amygdala CRF neurons to suppress binge alcohol drinking, Thomas L .Kash, et al., Nature Neuroscience, doi: 10.1038/nn.3972, published online 9 March 2015, abstract.