Researchers at the University at Buffalo have found a way to change alcohol drinking behaviour in rodents, using the emerging technique of optogenetics – using light to stimulate neurons.
In the experiments, rats were trained to drink alcohol in a way that mimics human binge-drinking behaviour.
“By stimulating certain dopamine neurons in a precise pattern, resulting in low but prolonged levels of dopamine release, we could prevent the rats from binging. The rats just flat out stopped drinking,” said Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Interestingly, the rodents continued to avoid alcohol even after the stimulation of neurons ended, Bass added.
The researchers activated the dopamine neurons through a type of deep brain stimulation using a new technique called optogenetics.
“Optogenetics allows you to stimulate only one type of neuron at a time,” said the study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
“The results have application not only in understanding and treating alcohol-drinking behaviours in humans, but also in many devastating mental illnesses and neurological diseases that have a dopamine component,” said Bass.
The findings are the first to demonstrate a causal relationship between the release of dopamine in the brain and drinking behaviours of animals.
“Research like this, which makes it possible to map the neuronal circuits responsible for specific behaviours, is a major focus of President Obama’s Brain Research for Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative, known as BRAIN,” concluded the study.