After obtaining access to alcohol in mice, as in humans, a relationship is developed over time, but the brain mechanisms that lead to this were unclear. Now a team of researchers from the University of California discovered a protein that binds alcohol consumption to structural changes in one of the "reward centers" in the brain of the mouse.
The work, published September 7, 2017 in the Neuron, devoted to the process when alcohol causes long-term changes in the brain cells, which leads to its excessive consumption.
Researchers still do not know how to ethanol, a tiny molecule with no fixed place of action, can change the function of the brain, contributing to uncontrolled consumption of alcohol.
Previous experiments in rodents in a laboratory Dorit Ron, a senior author of the study showed that the protein mTORC1 could be a major mediator in the formation of drug dependence, including cocaine, morphine and alcohol. Previous studies have shown that excessive consumption of alcohol increases the activity of mTORC1, and increased its activity is related to the "search" of alcohol. These data indicate that the mTORC1 can cause structural changes in the brain that reinforce positive associations with alcohol.
Previously, scientists have found that rapamycin, an immunosuppressant, forcing rodents to significantly reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, without affecting the taste of other substances, such as sugar water. But since rapamycin significant side effects, it is not suitable for the treatment of alcoholism. To develop new drugs research team tried to better understand the role of mTORC1 in alcohol dependence.
Scientists used RNAseq method to search for new proteins that may be associated with mTORC1 activity in the mouse brain. Of the 12 identified proteins, the researchers focused on a protein prosapip1. They found that it alters the structure and activity of neurons in the nucleus after long use of alcohol. When the researchers blocked the production of genetically prosapip1, these changes significantly diminished. Mice prosapip1 was blocked, preferred water.
Studying mTORC1 and related molecules, Ron hopes that future research will enable scientists to develop new approaches for the treatment of alcohol dependence.
"I have for many years engaged in research of molecular neurobiology, and I have never seen a molecule, which is associated with substances that cause dependence, - said Ron -. I think it will be the key to the understanding of drug addiction."