A team of scientists working collaboratively at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco, and Pfizer Inc., have found two new compounds that could be used in treating alcohol and nicotine dependence simultaneously.

The researchers found that urine studies indicate the reduction of alcohol consumption through the targeted activity of two compounds on the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR).

These receptors are proteins present in the brain and the central nervous system which arbitrate the consequences of alkaloids like nicotine. Studies on the human genome indicate that the genes patterning the 3 and 4 subtypes are important to indicate susceptibility to nicotine and alcohol dependence.

"The problem has been translating these important genetic findings into more effective medications for people," said Selena E. Bartlett, director of the Preclinical Development group at the Gallo Center.

The compounds identified as CP-601932 and PF-4575180 have been developed by the Pfizer Inc. Bartlett adds that one compound, CP – 601932, in clinical trials, has been found to be safe in humans. It is this molecule that shows promising signs of being effective in treating both alcohol and nicotine dependence.

"Alcohol and nicotine addiction are often treated as separate disorders," Bartlett says, "despite the fact that 60 to 80 percent of heavy drinkers smoke tobacco. There are very few effective strategies for treating these disorders separately, let alone together. Our data suggest that by targeting specific nAChR subtypes, it may be possible to treat both alcohol and nicotine dependence with one medication."

Notably, while the murine tests were significant in the reduction of alcohol consumption, the ingestion of sucrose was not affected. "This indicates that unlike currently approved alcohol abuse medications, the compounds do not interfere with the brain's natural reward system in a larger way," says Bartlett.