Mouse model links alcohol intake to marijuana-like brain compounds

Brain molecules similar to the active compound in marijuana help to regulate alcohol consumption, according to new reports by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), Bethesda, Maryland, and a separate NIAAA-supported group at several New York state research institutions.

In studies conducted with a strain of mice known to have a high preference for alcohol, the scientists found greatly reduced alcohol intake in mice specially bred to lack CB1, the brain receptor for innate marijuana-like substances known as endocannabinoids. The effect was age dependent, the Bethesda group found. The New York scientists showed that the endocannabinoid system activates a brain region known as the nucleus accumbens, which plays a major role in mediating the rewarding effects of alcohol. Both groups had shown that alcohol intake among normal mice of the same alcohol-preferring strain could be reduced by treating the animals with a drug that blocks CB1 receptors in the brain.

The new reports appear in the early online versions of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 20, Number 3, at www.pnas.org and the Journal of Neurochemistry, Volume 24, Number 4, at www.blackwell-synergy.com/servlet/useragent?func=showIssues&code=jnc in the week beginning January 20, 2003 (specific dates to be determined).

"These are important findings," notes NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D. "Implicating yet another neurochemical mechanism in alcohol consumption opens another potential avenue for the development of new pharmacologic agents to prevent and treat alcohol problems."

The brain's multiple communication pathways employ a wide variety of signaling molecules known as neurotransmitters to relay messages from one brain cell to another. Researchers have found that alcohol affects numerous neurot

Contact: Ann Bradley
NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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