Gene therapy reduces drinking in rats with genetic predisposition to 'alcoholism'

UPTON, NY -- As a follow up to previous work showing that gene therapy can reduce drinking in rats trained to prefer alcohol, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have used the same technique to cut drinking in rats with a genetic predisposition for heavy alcohol consumption. The findings, along with additional results on the effects of long-term ethanol consumption on certain aspects of brain chemistry, are published in the May 2004 issue of Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research.

"Though we are still early in the process, these results improve our understanding of the mechanism or mechanisms of alcohol addiction and strengthen our hope that this treatment approach might one day help people addicted to alcohol," said Panayotis (Peter) Thanos, who lead the study in Brookhaven Lab's medical department.

Genetically predisposed alcohol-preferring rats are a much better model for human alcoholism than the rats used previously, which the scientists had to train to prefer alcohol. Without any training, the genetic alcohol-preferring rats drink, on average, more than five grams of ethanol per kilogram of body weight per day when given a free choice between alcohol and plain water. Genetically non-preferring rats, in contrast, typically consume less than one gram of ethanol per kilogram of body weight per day.

In this study, both groups were treated with gene transfer to increase the level of a brain receptor for dopamine, a chemical important for transmitting feelings of pleasure and reward and known to play a role in addiction. After the gene treatment, the alcohol-preferring rats exhibited a 37 percent reduction in their preference for alcohol and cut their total alcohol consumption in half -- from 2.7 grams per kilogram of body weight before treatment to 1.3g/kg after. Non-preferring rats also reduced their drinking preference and intake after gene treatment, but not in nearly as dramatic a fas

Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

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