Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just “turn off” the switch that drives alcoholics to drink again and again? A new study may have done just that, reporting to have found a mechanism that strongly influences whether or not an animal is likely to drink a lot of alcohol.

Mice more sensitive to the motor-impairing effects of alcohol tend to less and mice with less sensitivity are prone to drink more . What’s more, researchers believe the same may be true for humans. The mechanism responsible for the motor-impairing effect is found in the cerebellum, a part of the brain at the back of vertebrate skulls, and sits on cells called GABAA receptor—protein cells that are associated with electrical signals in the nervous system. Alcohol enhances GABAA receptor signaling and reduces firing in the brain. This is why it reduces anxiety and social inhibition, but also why drinking can lead to swaying, stumbling and slurred speech.

The team discovered this observing the drinking habits of mice with different ethanol sensitivity. Mice with more sensitivity to alcohol had trouble staying on their running wheels after drinking and, as a result, did not drink more than the equivalent of one or two human drinks. On the other hand, mice with less sensitivity to alcohol’s effects stayed on the running wheel far longer than the first group and ended up drinking three times as much alcohol than their counterparts.

In addition to identifying the mechanism, the team believe they have found a way to control it and thus a possible treatment for alcohol abuse . Mice with low sensitivity to the motor-impairing effects of alcohol were injected with a drug called THIP, which activated the GABAA receptors. As a result, the mice experienced more of alcohol and were deterred from drinking more. According to the team in a recent press release , this presents a possible way to to deter excessive alcohol consumption, and potentially with fewer side effects than other existing targets and brain circuits."

Read More:

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