The practice of “binge drinking” is a common occurrence among young adults, especially with young men. Drinking as much alcohol as you can, as fast as you can, may be appealing to those trying to catch up with their peers; however, binge drinking can be extremely dangerous – leading to a number of health problems – as well as dependence and addiction.
As a result, researchers have long sought ways to curb binge drinking behaviors using science. At the University of North Carolina (UNC), a team of researchers used “a series of genetic and pharmacological approaches” to identify a protein in the brain called neuropeptide Y (NPY), which suppressed binge drinking behavior in a mouse model, Medical News Today reports.
“Specifically, we found that NPY acted in a part of the brain known as the extended amygdala (or bed nucleus of the stria terminalis) that we know is linked to both stress and reward,” explained study lead author Thomas L. Kash, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of pharmacology and psychology and a member of UNC’s Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. This antidrinking effect was due to increasing inhibition (the brakes) on a specific population of cells that produce a ‘pro-drinking’ molecule called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF).”
“When we then mimicked the actions of NPY using engineered proteins, we were also able to suppress binge alcohol drinking in mice,” notes Kash.
What’s interesting, in the study the researchers found that the “antidrinking” NPY system may be susceptible to alteration by long-term drinking in multiple species. The researchers’ findings suggest that NPY may not only be a treatment for alcohol abuse – but a marker.
“The identification of where in the brain and how NPY blunts binge drinking, and the observation that the NPY system is compromised during early binge drinking prior to the transition to dependence, are novel and important observations,” study co-author Todd E. Thiele, PhD, professor of psychology at UNC and a member of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies.
The findings were published in Nature Neuroscience.