Lack of Brain Enzyme Linked to Alcoholism

     (CN) — A group of scientists believe they have discovered the neurological factor that leads to alcoholism, potentially paving the way for enhanced treatment strategies for addicts.
     Researchers identified an enzyme which stops being produced in nerve cells of the frontal lobe when alcohol dependence develops, leading to continued use of alcohol despite increasingly adverse consequences.
     The team, led by Swedish researcher Markus Heilig, found that the lack of enzyme PRDM2 impairs frontal lobe function, making it difficult for us to control our impulses.
     “The enzyme has previously been studied in cancer research, but we didn’t know that it has a function in the brain,” Heilig said.
     Heilig and his team connected research into alcoholism and other addictive illnesses with advanced brain research, as alcohol dependence has long been suspected of resulting from brain-function impairment though the underlying biological mechanisms remained unclear.
     Their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Nature.
     A person with intact impulse control can walk by a bar and rationally determine whether he should get a beer. But someone whose impulse control is impaired by a lack of PRDM2 would feel a strong urge to justify getting a drink.
     “PRDM2 controls the expression of several genes that are necessary for effective signaling between nerve cells,” Heilig said. “When too little enzyme is produced, no effective signals are sent from the cells that are supposed to stop the impulse.”
     The findings were established after years of dedicated research. The team found that alcohol dependence in rats led to a decrease in PRDM2 production, which in turn resulted in disruption of impulse control.
     The rats continued to consume alcohol even after doing so became unpleasant, and they were quick to relapse into drinking when subjected to stress.
     Heilig’s team then knocked out the production of PRDM2 in the frontal lobes of rats that were not alcohol-dependent, which led to the same impulse control disruptions.
     “We see how a single molecular manipulation gives rise to important characteristics of an addictive illness. Now that we’re beginning to understand what’s happening, we hope we’ll also be able to intervene,” Heilig said.
     “Over the long term, we want to contribute to developing effective medicines, but over the short term the important thing, perhaps, is to do away with the stigmatization of alcoholism.”

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