BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: alcoholism

Just Because My D1 Neurons Are Excited, Doesn’t Mean My Risk of Alcoholism Increases…Does it?!

Alcoholism can now not only be studied and analyzed at the psychological level, but also at the molecular level, thanks to researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. They recently conducted a study that found how alcohol influences the dorsomedial striatum, the part of the brain that participates in decision-making and goal-driven behaviors.

The dorsomedial striatum is composed of medium spiny neurons, neurons that have many branches, or spines, protruding off their dendrites.

(Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Confocal_image_of_spiny_neuron_-_1.jpg)

Spiny neurons have receptors for dopamine, which is further categorized into dopamine D1 and D2 neurotransmitters. D1 neurons have receptors for D1 neurotransmitters. They send excitatory postsynaptic potentials and encourage the action potential/signal to continue. D2 neurons counteract D1 neurons; they send inhibitory postsynaptic potentials and discourage further actions. In this study, D1 neurons prove to be a major part of alcoholism and addiction.

High consumption of alcohol, scientists learned, excites D1 neurons. The more excited they become, the more compelled one feels to perform an action…in this case, the action is drinking another alcoholic beverage.

More drinking induces more D1 neuron excitement, which leads to even more drinking.

Not only does it affect a D1 neuron’s excitability, alcohol also makes physical changes to the neuron itself at the molecular level, and consequently affects the neuron’s function.

In their study, researchers divided their test subjects into two groups: one that’s exposed to alcohol and one that’s not. Analyzing their spiny neurons, scientists saw that though the number of spines in the neurons of the individuals of each group didn’t change, the ratio of the difference between mature and immature spines was dramatic. The subjects that drank alcohol had notably longer branches and a high number of mature mushroom-shaped spines. The abstainers’ neurons had shorter branches and more immature mushroom-shaped spines. Mature, mushroom-shaped spines are involved in long-term memory; activation of long-term memory through alcohol underlies addiction.

However, there’s promising news! The study also showed results that blocking, or at least partially blocking, D1 receptors via a drug can inhibit and reduce the desire for consumption of another drink.

This is a huge step towards finding a cure for alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease that affects not only the individual, but also his or her family, relatives, friends, etc…With this study, the scientific community has more of an understanding of how to go about creating new drugs and combating alcoholism.

If we suppress this activity, we’re able to suppress alcohol consumption. This is the major finding. Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons.

-Jun Wang, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author on the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

What do you think? Do you think this study promotes a viable option towards curing alcoholism and addiction, or is there another method out there that we should be pursuing? Leave a comment below!

 

Original Article

Why is it so hard to stop drinking?

It is well known that alcohol is an addictive substance that is hard to quit. The question is why? Some factors of alcoholism are genetic. People whose brains “release more natural opioids in response to alcohol may get more pleasure out of drinking and may be more likely to drink too much and become alcoholics” Also, the orbitofrontal cortex, which is “a brain region linked with decision-making” is affected by alcohol and is a factor of addiction. In addition, Alcohol triggers dopamine release in the brain, a chemical known to spur satisfying feelings. If all of these factors leading to addiction aren’t enough, scientists recently found evidence of a chemical that makes it hard to stop drinking alcohol.

taken from WikimediaCommons

Researchers from the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that long term alcohol abuse leads to higher levels of acetate. Our brains usually run on sugar but recent studies show that heavy drinkers are better able to use acetate to fuel their brain.

Studies show that heavy drinkers were more adept at transporting acetate to their brains than light drinkers. In addition heavier drinkers “burned the chemical about twice as fast as light drinkers”. This showed that the brains of heavy drinkers are able to use alternate energy sources very efficiently. This may seem like an advantage but this extra energy source makes the body even more addicted to alcohol.

 

 

 

 

main article:

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/348839/description/Heavy_drinkers_get_extra_brain_fuel_from_alcohol

addition articles:

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/alcohol-abuse/news/20120111/study-sheds-more-light-on-why-some-get-alcoholism

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/13/alcohol-addictive-endorphins-_n_1202406.html

picture link:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alcohol_desgracia.jpg

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