Alcoholism and excessive food intake may share chemical pathways in the brain

  • Galanin is one of several neuropeptides known to increase food intake.
  • New findings show that galanin microinjections can increase rodents' voluntary alcohol intake.
  • Conversely, microinjection of a galanin receptor antagonist can reduce rodents' alcohol consumption.
  • Galanin may play a role in both excessive food intake and alcohol consumption.

Galanin is one of several neuropeptides known to increase food intake. Previous findings have suggested that galanin may also be involved in alcohol consumption and/or the motivation to drink alcohol beverages. Most recently, researchers have discovered that giving galanin microinjections to rodents can increase their voluntary alcohol intake. Their findings are published in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Galanin's well-known effects of increasing food intake, especially the intake of fat-rich diets, was one of the early reasons we investigated it," said Michael J. Lewis, a senior fellow working with Dr. Bart Hoebel in his laboratory in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University and Sarah Leibowitz at Rockefeller University, and corresponding author for the study. "Alcohol is the only drug of abuse that can also qualify as a calorie-rich food, and it undoubtedly has important interactions with systems that control food intake and nutrition."

Lewis added that alcohol, galanin and food intake have another area of commonality: all are stimulants of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has been linked by numerous studies to the rewarding effects and "high" produced by potent drugs of abuse such as nicotine, cocaine and heroin.

"While many brain neurochemicals have been examined for their role in modulating neurobiological responses to alcohol, the role of neuropeptide pathways, particularly those that have been shown to be involved with feeding and body weight regulation, have largely been ignored," added


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