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Alcohol addiction may be treated by resetting reward center in brain

Researchers have identified the effects of alcoholism on the dorsal striatum, the brain's reward center.

By Amy Wallace
A new study has identified two pathways crucial in the reward center of the brain that when manipulated could be a new treatment target for alcohol addiction. UPI/Shutterstock/Piyato
A new study has identified two pathways crucial in the reward center of the brain that when manipulated could be a new treatment target for alcohol addiction. UPI/Shutterstock/Piyato

May 25 (UPI) -- A new study has identified two pathways in the reward center of the brain that may be manipulated to help treat alcohol addiction.

The two pathways in the dorsal striatum, the reward center of the brain, regulate the go pathway to encourage rewarding behavior and the no-go pathway that halts behavior. They have the opposite effects, however, on control of alcohol consumption behavior.

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Researchers found that alcohol-induced alterations in the signaling of the two pathways encourage alcohol consumption leading to alcohol abuse and addiction.

The team trained mice to become heavy drinkers by repeated cycles of consumption and withdrawal of 20 percent alcohol and measured the effects on the balance of the reward center.

Researchers recorded the activity of cells and found increased activity in the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain known as GABA signaling, which suppressed the no-go pathway.

Excessive alcohol consumption had the opposite effect on the go pathway by increasing glutamate signaling, the excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.

"Both of these effects serve to reinforce alcohol consumption, leading to pathological excessive use of alcohol," researchers stated in a press release.

Researchers confirmed their findings through the manipulation of cells specific to the two pathways to increase glutamatergic or GABAergic activity.

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"These findings identified potential therapeutic targets," said Dr. Jun Wang, a researcher at Texas A&M Health Sciences Center.

The study was published in Biological Psychiatry.

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