Controversial drug shown to act on brain protein to cut alcohol use

A naturally occurring hallucinogen advocated by some clinicians as a potent anti-addiction drug has been rigorously studied for the first time, confirming its ability to block alcohol craving in rodents, and clarifying how it works in the brain. The new research findings about the drug Ibogaine open the way for development of other drugs to reverse addiction without Ibogaine's side effects, potentially adding to the small arsenal of drugs that effectively combat addiction.

Derived from a West African shrub, Ibogaine has been championed for years by a cadre of clinicians and drug treatment advocates impressed with its ability to reverse withdrawal symptoms and craving for alcohol and various drugs of abuse. It has been used outside of the U.S. to treat addiction by American and other clinicians. But its side effects, including hallucinations, which made it popular in the 1960s drug culture, and evidence of toxicity to certain nerve cells in rodent studies have discouraged careful studies of its clinical potential against drug and alcohol addiction. The FDA has not approved use of Ibogaine in the U.S.

Scientists at UCSF's Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center have now shown definitively in experiments with mice and rats that Ibogaine does reduce alcohol consumption, and they have determined that it does so by increasing the level of a brain protein known as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, or GDNF. In a separate study, they demonstrated that GDNF by itself decreases alcohol consumption.

The research is being published in the January 19 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"By identifying the brain protein that Ibogaine regulates to reduce alcohol consumption in rats, we have established a link between GDNF and reversal of addiction -- knowledge of a molecular mechanism that should allow development of a new class of drugs to treat addiction without Ibogaine's side effects," said Dorit Ron, PhD, UCSF associate professor of

Contact: Wallace Ravven
University of California - San Francisco

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