Page last updated: November 27, 2013

Disrupting drinking memories may help prevent relapse

Research supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests that a drug currently used to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs could, in the future, help lessen the alcohol cravings that often lead to relapse among people with drinking problems.

Alcohol-related memories, or cues—such as the smell of alcohol—can trigger cue-induced alcohol craving. Previous research has found that the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), a group of proteins found in cells throughout the body, is involved in memory processes in the brain and also plays an important role in alcohol-seeking behaviour by activating this complex in select brain regions.

In a study published online in Nature Neuroscience, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, examined whether inhibiting the activated mTORC1 could disrupt memories of alcohol cues—and thus diminish alcohol relapses in rats that had been trained to binge drink. After a period of alcohol abstinence, researchers exposed the rats to a small amount of alcohol to provide an odor and taste cue to the animals. The researchers then administered a dose of rapamycin, an mTORC1 inhibitor. Compared with a control group that did not receive rapamycin, rats which received the drug sought and consumed less alcohol for the duration of the experiment.

The researchers note memory disruption has shown success in humans who are addicted to heroin and suggest that it may prove helpful in developing new relapse-prevention strategies in alcoholics as well.

Source: Barak, S.; Liu, F.; Hamida, S.B.; et al. Disruption of alcohol-related memories by mTORC1 inhibition prevents relapse. Nature Neuroscience 16(8):1111–1117, 2013. PMID: 23792945. PMID 23792945.

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