University of Utah neuroscientists finds the lateral habenula controls sensitivity to the negative effects of drinking alcohol
As recovering spring breakers are regretting binge drinking escapades, it may be hard for them to appreciate that there is a positive side to the nausea, sleepiness, and stumbling.
University of Utah neuroscientists report that when a region of the brain called the lateral habenula is chronically inactivated in rats, they repeatedly drink to excess and are less able to learn from the experience. The study, published online in PLOS ONE on April 2, has implications for understanding behaviors that drive alcohol addiction.
While complex societal pressures contribute to alcoholism, physiological factors are also to blame. Alcohol is a drug of abuse, earning its status because it tickles the reward system in the brain, triggering the release of feel-good neurotransmitters. The dreaded outcomes of overindulging serve the beneficial purpose of countering the pull of temptation, but little is understood about how those mechanisms are controlled.
U of U professor of neurobiology and anatomy Sharif Taha, Ph.D. and colleagues, tipped the balance that reigns in addictive behaviors by inactivating in rats a brain region called the lateral habenula. When the rats were given intermittent access to a solution of 20% alcohol over several weeks, they escalated their alcohol drinking more rapidly, and drank more heavily than control rats.
"In people, escalation of intake is what eventually separates a social drinker from someone who becomes an alcoholic," said Taha. "These rats drink amounts that are quite substantial. Legally they would be drunk if they were driving,"
The lateral habenula is activated by bad experiences, suggesting that without this region the rats may drink more because they fail to learn from the negative outcomes of overindulging. The investigators tested the idea by giving the rats a desirable, sweet juice then injecting them with a dose of alcohol large enough to cause negative effects.
"It's the same kind of learning that mediates your response in food poisoning. You taste something and then you get sick, and then of course you avoid that food in future meals," explained Taha.
Yet rats with an inactivated lateral habenula sought out the juice more than control animals, even though it meant a repeat of the bad experience.
"The way I look at it is the rewarding effects of drinking alcohol compete with the aversive effects," explained Andrew Haack, who is co-first author on the study with Chandni Sheth, both neuroscience graduate students. "When you take the aversive effects away, which is what we did when we inactivated the lateral habenula, the rewarding effects gain more purchase, and so it drives up drinking behavior."
The group's findings may help explain results from previous clinical investigations demonstrating that men who were less sensitive to the negative effects of alcohol drank more heavily, and were more likely to become problem drinkers later in life.
The researches think the lateral habenula likely works in one of two ways. The region may regulate how badly an individual feels after over-drinking. Alternatively, it may control how well an individual learns from their bad experience. Future work will resolve between the two.
"If we can understand the brain circuits that control sensitivity to alcohol's aversive effects, then we can start to get a handle on who may become a problem drinker," said Taha.
Listen to an interview with Sharif Taha on The Scope Radio
Read the article in PLOS ONE
Funding support was provided by the National Institutes Health under award MH094870, the March of Dimes Foundation, and the University of Utah.
Julie Kiefer | EurekAlert!
Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung
High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg
Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.
To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...
A new Fraunhofer MEVIS method conveys medical interrelationships quickly and intuitively with innovative visualization technology
On the monitor, a brain spins slowly and can be examined from every angle. Suddenly, some sections start glowing, first on the side and then the entire back of...
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory have discovered an unusual property of purple bronze that may point to new ways to achieve high temperature superconductivity.
While studying purple bronze, a molybdenum oxide, researchers discovered an unconventional charge density wave on its surface.
Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.
Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...
Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases
Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...
29.07.2016 | Event News
15.07.2016 | Event News
15.07.2016 | Event News
29.07.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
29.07.2016 | Life Sciences
29.07.2016 | Event News