(Portland, OR) -- Researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center are helping reinforce the idea of a genetic basis for alcoholism. New research being published in the November edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience shows that laboratory mice bred without a functional gene associated with the brain's reward system have a lower preference for and sensitivity to alcohol than their counterparts who have the gene. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Mice lacking the so-called D2 receptor in their brains were generated at OHSU three years ago. The D2 receptor is one of five in the brain connected with a substance called dopamine, which is thought to regulate reward and some behaviors. Previous research suggests that alcohol and other drugs of abuse activate the brain's dopamine system. The release of dopamine in the brain creates a pleasurable sensation, prompting a craving for more alcohol. The importance of each dopamine receptor is being explored, but current data suggest that the D2 receptor may be one of the "sensors" that help power that craving.
"Our research shows that taking away the D2 receptor cut alcohol consumption in half," said Tamara Phillips, Ph.D., the lead author of the paper. Phillips is a research geneticist at the Portland VA Medical Center and professor of behavioral neuroscience at OHSU. "It also changed alcohol consumption to aversion, using a procedure where the animals had free choice over whether they drank alcohol or water."
The laboratory experiment involved placing mice in a cage with two
bottles in it -- one filled with water, the other with ethano
Contact: Henry Sessions
Oregon Health & Science University