Using an emerging technique called optogenetics, which uses light to stimulate neurons, researchers at the University at Buffalo have found a way to alter alcohol drinking in rodents that mimics human binge drinking behavior.
The investigators say the findings could help scientists develop new treatments for alcoholism, other addictions and neurological and mental illnesses. First, researchers trained rats to drink alcohol in a way that imitates human binge-drinking behavior. Then, using a type of deep brain stimulation called optogenetics, they introduced a virus in the rats’ brains engineered to deliver a light-responsive protein called Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) to the dopamine-controlling neurons.
The viral gene-delivery strategy selectively activated ChR2 on dopamine cells in the brain’s reward system, resulting in low but prolonged levels of dopamine release. Researchers observed that this stopped the rats from drinking altogether, and even after researchers stopped the stimulation of neurons, the animals continued to avoid alcohol.
Sounds interesting. Some sort of pill or injection that achieves the same effect on the dopamine-control neuarons would probably have a greater impact in the real world.