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article imageEssential Science: Pathway to alcohol addiction discovered

By Tim Sandle     Dec 31, 2018 in Science
Researchers have been looking at the biochemical processes involved with alcohol addiction and they have succeeded in identifying the pathway involved. This could assist with the treatment of alcohol related addiction.
The new study, from Brown University (U.S.), has been conducted on the brains of fruit flies (which serve as the deal model for studying many processes in all organisms, including humans). The research reveals the pathway affected by alcohol. This pathway is the one that establishes rewarding memories and cravings.
Rewarding memories
The basis of the research was to help to understand how certain drugs, be that narcotics or alcohol, create rewarding memories in people, notwithstanding their neurotoxic effects. It was also helped that the research would help to provide an insight into addiction and treating the effects of alcohol abuse. A big challenge in treating addiction is the possibility of relapse. This can occur even after a period of abstinence. This is due to the 'reward memory' that is retained.
Why fruit flies?
Drosophila species fly.
Drosophila species fly.
Muhammad Mahdi Karim (GNU Free Documentation License)
By studying fruit flies (of the species Drosophila melanogaster), the research could be conduced more quickly. A good model organism shares, on the molecular level, many similar features and pathways with humans. The fruit fly has, at 60 percent, of a group of readily identified genes that are found in a diverse set of human diseases.With the specific research, the brains of fruit flies have similar avoidance and reward memories generated by molecular signals that are analogous to those found in humans.
Identifying the pathway
With the study, the researchers were able to deactivate specific genes in the fruit flies as they were being taught where to locate alcohol. By observing the response of the flies, this enabled the researchers to identify the proteins that were essential for generating rewarding memories.
Pints of beer
Drinking beer pints in a bar.
Photo by David Silverberg
This led to the discovery that the Notch protein, which affects the signaling cascade involved in the expression of the dopamine-2-like receptor protein, was vital for installing a predilection for alcohol. As lead researcher Dr. Karla Kaun tells Future Science: "The dopamine-2-like receptor is known to be involved in encoding whether a memory is pleasing or aversive."
As to what this means for people, Kaun explains: "If this works the same way in humans, one glass of wine is enough to activate the pathway, but it returns to normal within an hour...After three glasses, with an hour break in between, the pathway doesn’t return to normal after 24 hours. We think this persistence is likely what is changing the gene expression in memory circuits." It is hoped this finding can assist with future addiction treatment.
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Neuron, with the research paper titled "Alcohol Activates Scabrous-Notch to Influence Associated Memories."
Essential Science
When it s young  a red dwarf star frequently erupts with strong ultraviolet flares as shown in this ...
When it's young, a red dwarf star frequently erupts with strong ultraviolet flares as shown in this artist's conception. Some have argued that life would be impossible on any planet orbiting in the star's habitable zone as a result. However, the planet's atmosphere could protect the surface, and in fact such stresses could help life to evolve. And when the star ages and settles down, its planet would enjoy billions of years of quiet, steady radiance.
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we discussed the most-distant solar system object ever observed, which has recently been detected by astronomers. The outer solar system objects is described as a 'far out there' dwarf planet.
The week before we considered why wine goes bad. While the main cause of this off-odor is hydrogen sulfide, which delivers to the affected wine an aroma of sewage or rotten eggs, as been long established what exactly triggers the off-odors has remained unclear - until now.
More about Alcohol, Addiction, biological markers, pathway
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