June 5 (UPI) -- A protein in the brain that's active in developing a person's tolerance to alcohol could help researchers create drugs to help with alcoholism, according to a study.
The researchers, who studied binge drinking, published their findings Monday in eNeuro, a journal of the Society for Neuroscience.
"A major challenge is to understand how ethanol, or alcohol, changes behavior and the brain during the descent into addiction," Joydip Das, a medicinal chemist at the University of Houston's College of Pharmacy, said in a press release. "Developing tolerance is a critical step in that descent."
In cases of binge alcohol exposure, alcohol changes neural activity, altering presynaptic and postsynaptic activity. A protein called MUNC 13-1 binds to alcohol in a brain synapse in which one nerve cell, or neuron, signals to another.
"If a person becomes tolerant of one drink, he will have another and maybe another," Das said. "If we could stop alcohol from binding into MUNC 13-1 it will help problem drinkers in reducing tolerance. If we can reduce tolerance we can reduce addiction."
The researchers developed a genetic model system in fruit flies, creating an activating protein called Dunc13, the equivalent to MUNC 13-1.
"Reduction in Dunc13 produces a behavioral and physiological resistance to sedative effects of ethanol," Das said.
MUNC 13-1 is viewed as an important target for developing drugs to target alcoholism.
"We need to develop a pill that would inhibit alcohol binding to MUNC 13 and reduce its activity," Das said. "Based on our results so far, this would likely reduce the formation of tolerance, making it harder to become addicted to alcohol."