Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Could Help Treat Excessive Alcohol Consumption 

In Education

A study conducted in Oregon suggests that a therapy involving brain injections, originally developed for treating Parkinson’s disease, and could potentially decrease excessive alcohol consumption. In the study, lab monkeys were treated with injections that used a harmless virus to reset their dopamine reward pathways. This led to a remarkable 90% reduction in the monkeys’ alcohol intake, indicating possible future applications of this therapy for individuals with severe alcohol disorders.

GDNF protein could help reduce alcohol consumption

The study involved injecting a set of rhesus macaque monkeys, known for consuming diluted ethanol, with a virus carrying a gene for the glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) protein to test its effects. GDNF acts as a growth factor, stimulating cell multiplication and enhancing brain neuron function that produces dopamine, a pleasure and reward-associated chemical. Chronic alcohol use is linked to decreased dopamine release.

According to Professor Kathleen Grant, the study’s main researcher, drinking among the animals almost ceased entirely. Over an extended period, they opted for water instead of alcohol, causing their alcohol consumption to drop significantly. In fact, their drinking decreased to the extent that no blood-alcohol levels were even recorded.

Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have boosted dopamine production in dopamine-rich brain areas by administering GDNF. Prof Grant said dopamine plays a role in reinforcing behavior and experiencing pleasure. While temporary alcohol use raises dopamine levels, chronic consumption leads to decreased dopamine release. Grant explains that alcohol addicts consume more to sustain intoxication rather than seeking increased pleasure.

MRI utilized to administer GDNF-carrying virus

ONPRC veterinarians utilized MRI to precisely administer a GDNF-carrying virus into monkeys’ brains. This technique is employed for Parkinson’s disease and aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency. Monkeys treated this way exhibited a 90% reduction in alcohol consumption compared to controls. The gene therapy holds promise as a last resort for severe alcohol-related disorders.

The target audience for this approach comprises individuals for whom standard therapeutic methods have proven ineffective. Dr. Grant emphasizes that these individuals are at risk of causing serious harm to themselves or others as a result of their alcohol consumption.

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