16.09.2016 change 16.09.2016

Fight alcohol craving, save chocolate craving

Will we have a drug in the future that will combat any addiction? Scientists want to find cells in our brain that are responsible for alcohol addiction, to block their functioning if necessary. But first they will check whether this would not inadvertently reduce our "love" for other pleasures, such as chocolate.

"Today, the treatment of many mental disorders involves the administration of drugs that affect the functioning of the entire brain, not the individual cells" - told PAP Dr. Anna Suska of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw.

Together with colleagues she conducts research, which in the future will allow precise targeting of drug in individual cells of the brain - to prevent stupefying the patient. The first step toward achieving this goal will be locating in the brain the cells involved in alcoholic relapse, those that are responsible for the return to addiction after a time of abstinence. For her research she received a grant in the amount of nearly 800 thousand zlotys from the Foundation for Polish Science.

"Individual cells form connections within the structures scattered in our brain, thus influencing our behaviour. In our study we propose finding specific cells responsible for the formation of addiction. We want to determine exactly which cells they are, where they are, and what they look like. This will give us better understanding of the process of addiction, but also the formation of memory and other processes occurring in the brain"- she explained.

The researcher will try to answer the question of whether the inhibition of cells responsible for addiction will prevent alcoholic relapse. For this purpose, the cells involved in alcohol dependence, will be labelled with a novel method. Specially prepared receptors will allow to control cell activity, using a specific chemical. "It does not exist in the body, but we have it in the lab and we can administer it. It is not harmful for the body in any way" - noted Dr. Suska.

"Our substance can be administered by injection as well as orally - like a pill with a drug. For now, of course, it is science fiction, but in the future such a pill can allow for precise inhibition of the cells responsible for alcoholism" - she described.

In the future, the results of the study could be translated into other addictions, for example drug addiction. They all take place in the same area of the brain: in the reward system. The same cells that are responsible for addiction to alcohol or drugs, control appetitive learning - learning enjoyable experiences. "For the brain it is the same mechanism. But addictive memories are so strong that they are virtually irreversible, and we remember them for life. Therefore, if someone is an alcoholic, he will always be an alcoholic" - emphasised the researcher.

Here, however, lies a potential problems. "Addiction is also learning something very pleasant. For the brain it is no different from learning that, for example, chocolate is delicious" - noted Dr Suska.

Who knows whether scientists wanting to stop the action of the cells responsible for addiction, for example to alcohol - will not accidentally inhibit including the cells involved in our habit of reaching for chocolate. Will this mean that we will stop liking chocolate? Will we not deprive ourselves of other pleasures of life? Dr. Suska admitted that her research is at a very early stage, and she will try to answer these intriguing questions.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ewelina Krajczyńska

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