Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, whichever you prefer, is a condition characterized by a physical and/or mental addiction to alcohol. Persons with this addiction continue to drink frequently, despite the negative effects associated with their behavior, health, and life outcomes.
Expert insight has pointed to impaired function in alcoholics in the the brain’s frontal lobes. This impairment is thought to lead to a decrease in impulse control when it comes to drinking. However, the exact molecular mechanism has remained somewhat of a mystery.
Recently,however, a study reviewed in the Molecular Psychiatry journal revealed that a specific enzyme is lacking in the brain of alcohol-dependent rats. The study was led by professor Markus Heilig of Linkoping University (Sweden). The enzyme in question is PRDM2, a member of the histone/protein methyltransferase family.
Past studies on the enzyme have mostly focused on its relationship to cancer. However, in this study researchers found additional functions in the brain. PRDM2 regulates the expression of genes necessary to transmit data between neurons.
Heilig’s team of researchers took a close look at alcohol-dependent rats and discovered that a history of alcoholism consistently affected the producton of PRDM2. This decrease ultimately disrupts impulse control.
In additional experiments, the researchers intentionally suppressed PRDM2 expression in non-alcohol-dependent rats, and discovered that their impulse control was disrupted as well, thus resulted in a signficant uptick in alcohol consumption.
“PRDM2 controls the expression of several genes that are necessary for effective signalling between nerve cells. When too little enzyme is produced, no effective signals are sent from the cells that are supposed to stop the impulse.”
He continues to add:
“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. 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 stigma of alcoholism.”
This new finding is exciting in the field of addiction medicine, and reveals a promising new approach to treating alcohol dependence.