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New finding could make addiction treatment more effective

a truly normal state. In the meantime, sleep problems can get worse. Insomnia has been shown to occur in 36 percent to 72 percent of alcoholic patients during both active drinking and withdrawal.

"There is a significant relationship between alcoholics returning to consumption because of this sleep issue," said Godwin, an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy. "One reason they may go back to drinking may be an attempt to make their sleep feel more normal or satisfying."

Previous research has shown that alcohol affects spindle waves, which are brain rhythms associated with normal sleep. The primary generators of spindle waves are proteins called calcium channels that are involved with cell communication. These channels may also help to set the phase of sleep.

Chronic alcohol consumption has been shown to disturb the function of calcium channels in the thalamus, a brain region involved in sleep. In the current study, Godwin and colleagues found that animals that self-administered alcohol had a fourfold increase in one of the genes that express the calcium channels, compared to animals that didn't consume alcohol.

"The alcohol suppresses the calcium channels, so the cells in the thalamus may compensate by making more copies of the gene," said Godwin. "However, this overproduction of the gene did not lead to an increase in functional calcium channels and the cells still had disturbances in the channels, so the animals as a group tended to have disrupted sleep."

Godwin and colleagues plan to continue the work to learn how alcohol disrupts the protein. Does it reduce the number of calcium channels? Or does it cause the channels to malfunction? Knowing more about how the channels respond to alcohol could lead to drugs that could target the calcium channels and address sleep problems associated with alcohol.


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Contact: Karen Richardson
krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4453
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
27-Oct-2004


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