Washington: Scientists have known that a region of the brain called the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) plays a role in behaviours related to alcohol use and consumption in general. They have now found a specific neural circuit that when altered caused animal models to drink less alcohol.
According to senior author, Zoe McElligott, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, “The fact that these neurons promote reward-like behaviour, that extremely low levels of alcohol consumption activate these cells, and that activation of these neurons drive alcohol drinking in animals without extensive prior drinking experience suggests that they may be important for early alcohol use and reward.” “It’s our hope that by understanding the function of this circuit, we can better predict what happens in the brains of people who transition from casual alcohol use to subsequent abuse of alcohol, and the development of alcohol use disorders,” McElligott added.
Using modern genetics and viral technologies in male mice, McElligott and colleagues found that selectively lessening the NTS neurons ( specific neuropeptide which contributes to reward-like behaviours and alcohol drinking) in the CeA, while maintaining other types of CeA neurons, would cause the animals to drink less alcohol.
This manipulation did not alter anxiety-like behaviour. It also did not affect the consumption of other palatable liquids such as sucrose, saccharin, and bitter quinine solutions. “We found that these NTS neurons in the CeA send a strong projection to the hindbrain, where they inhibit the parabrachial nucleus, near the brainstem,” McElligott said.
“Furthermore, when we stimulated this projection, animals would drink more alcohol as compared to when they had an opportunity to drink alcohol without laser stimulation,” McElligott said.