Brain Proteins May Raise Alcoholism Risk

In rat study, two compounds boosted booze-craving behaviors

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 5, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A study in rats suggests that a hereditary deficiency of a specific brain protein may be linked to alcoholism and anxiety.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that rats bred to crave alcohol had lower levels of the protein, called cyclic AMP responsive element binding protein (CREB), and another brain protein, called neuropeptide Y, in certain areas of their amygdala -- a part of the brain associated with emotion, fear and anxiety -- compared to nonalcoholic rats.

The two proteins appear to be connected: When CREB is activated it regulates production of neuropeptide Y, the researchers explained in the October issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

In addicted rats, alcohol reduced anxiety and increased levels of active CREB and neuropeptide Y in the central amygdala but did not have the same effect on the non-alcohol-craving rats. The alcohol-craving rats appeared to use alcohol to reduce their anxiety, the researchers noted.

"This is the first direct evidence that a hereditary deficiency of CREB protein in the central amygdala is associated with high anxiety and alcohol-drinking behaviors," lead researcher Subhash Pandey, an associate professor of psychiatry and director of neuroscience alcoholism research at the UIC College of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"Genetically, high anxiety levels are important in the promotion of higher alcohol consumption in humans. Drinking is a way for these individuals to self-medicate," Pandey said.

More information

The U.S. National Mental Health Association has more about alcoholism.

SOURCE: University of Illinois at Chicago, news release, Oct. 3, 2005

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