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Alcoholics Analysis: mapping brain for treatment


New York : Brain tissues of chronic alcoholics reveal changes that occur at the molecular level in alcohol abuse – and suggests a potential treatment target, a new study has found.

The study by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine showed that the protein beta-catenin is found at higher levels in the brains of chronic alcoholics. This protein, they believe, may be a key cause of alcohol dependence as well as its tolerance.

The discovery could pave the way for the development of drugs to inhibit the molecule and treat the disease, said Qiang Gu, co-author of the study, in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Qiang used cutting-edge technology to explore the idea that the complex behavioural, psychological, emotional and brain changes associated with alcoholism are likely due to how networks of proteins respond to chronic and excessive alcohol intake.

Proteins determine how an organism looks, how well its body metabolises food or fights infection, and even how it behaves.

The researchers measured levels of more than 500 different proteins in tissue samples. In a pilot study, they noted that beta-catenin was increased in alcoholics, so they studied it in more detail.

Qiang cautioned that more research is needed before scientists can use the information to develop a potential treatment. He said the next step is to study animals to determine exactly when levels of beta-catenin increase.

“If the change happens early, it may explain how the brain adapts and could be a potential treatment target,” he said. “If it shows up later, it could be from the toxic effects of alcohol. We need to further define its role.”

The scientists also found higher levels of Myc in alcoholics, a protein that at high levels can cause cancer.

“The results may help to explain why excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer,” said Qiang.