Fresh hope for heavy drinkers: new drug may cut craving

18 Sep 2017


There is fresh hope for those who have been trying unsucessfully to kick the bottle - a drug that influences the immune system in the brain may disrupt the desire to down one or more 'burra pegs' every evening.

A new study revealed that there was a significant reduction in alcohol drinking behaviour in mice who were given (+)-Naltrexone, specifically at nighttime when the reward for drug-related behaviour is usually at its greatest.

The findings showed a link between the brain's immunity and the motivation to drink alcohol at night. This may be because our body's circadian rhythms affect the ''reward'' signals we receive in the brain from drug-related behaviour and the peak time for this reward typically occurs during the evening or dark phase, the researchers said.

''Alcohol is the world's most commonly consumed drug and there is a greater need than ever to understand the biological mechanisms that drive our need to drink alcohol,'' said lead author Jon Jacobsen, PhD student at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

''We wanted to test what the role of the brain's immune system might have on that reward and whether or not we could switch it off,'' Jacobsen added.

The team focussed their attention on the immune receptor Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). They administered the drug (+)-Naltrexone (pronounced: PLUS-NAL-TREX-OWN), which is known to block TLR4, to mice.

They concluded that blocking a specific part of the brain's immune system did in fact substantially decrease the motivation of mice to drink alcohol in the evening.

Senior author Mark Hutchinson said that these findings point to the need for further research to understand the implications for drinking behaviour in humans.

The study is part of an emerging field which highlights the importance of the brain's immune system in the desire to drink alcohol.

The research appeared in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

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