MEDICINE AND HEALTH

Brain gene therapy suppresses alcohol abuse


THE REWARD PATHWAY IN THE HUMAN BRAIN SHOWS HOW STIMULI SUCH AS ALCOHOL CAN PROMPT DOPAMINE RELEASE, WHICH AFFECTS OUR EMOTIONAL RESPONSE, LEADING TO THE FURTHER RELEASE OF DOPAMINE AND OTHER HORMONES CREDIT: FERNANDO DA CUNHA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Researchers conducted a small trial in monkeys and found that disposable gene therapies can reduce alcohol intake and treat alcohol abuse.

Gene therapy promotes the production of the signaling chemical dopamine, which is thought to be linked to addiction. If this treatment works for people as well, it may only be for those who abuse alcohol the most, as this approach carries a risk of damaging the brain.

Currently, the main treatment for alcohol abuse is talk therapy. Although there are some drugs that can reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, they are not effective for everyone.

Some people who want to stop drinking are frustrated by craving alcohol and stop taking these drugs. Therefore, Kathleen Grant and colleagues of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland plan to investigate whether gene therapy has long-term therapeutic effects.

Dopamine levels were lower in two areas of the center of the brain, the ventral tegmental area, in people who had been drinking heavily for many years. “This leads to people needing alcohol to feel rewarded,” Grant said. So the team designed a gene therapy that boosted dopamine levels in these areas of the brain.

The team tested the gene therapy in rhesus monkeys. During their teenage years, monkeys drink relatively large amounts of alcohol. As adults, they consume the equivalent of several units of alcohol per day.

Grant’s team used a modified virus to deliver a gene for signaling molecules called glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) into the brains of four of the monkeys. GDNF is thought to help dopamine survive and function, i.e. produce brain cells.

The researchers passed on the gene by drilling two small holes in the skull and injecting them into each ventral tegmental area. Four other animals received an inert substance injection for comparison.

Over the next 12 months, the treated monkeys drank more than 90 percent less than the control group. Grant said: “Their drinking has dropped to almost zero. ”

The researchers euthanized the animals at the end of the year and examined their brains. The results showed that the treated animals had higher levels of GDNF and dopamine in target areas of the brains compared to the other group of animals.

However, Grant said it’s unclear exactly how the therapy works. It may cause brain cells to produce more dopamine or slow down dopamine removal. GDNF also raises levels of other brain signaling chemicals, including serotonin and norepinephrine.

Simon Waddington, of University College London, said the technique used in the study was impressive, but doctors should be cautious about giving this treatment to patients unless they suffer from severe alcohol abuse. “Injecting a gene therapy in the brain that can’t be stopped is a very bad thing.”

The researchers published the findings in the August 14 issue of Nature Medicine. (Source: China Science News Guo Yueying)

Related paper information:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-023-02463-9



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