A lack of specific receptors in the brain for a chemical normally associated with pleasure may leave people vulnerable to alcoholism, according to researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Potentially, that lack could be addressed by gene therapy, the team reported in the September Journal of Neurochemistry.
Dr. Panayotis K. Thanos and his colleagues studied a strain of rats that are deficient in the D2 dopamine receptor in the brain, which, as part of the brain's "reward system," plays a key role in mood and motivation. The rats were found to be particularly susceptible to alcoholism, routinely choosing alcohol over water. But when the researchers used gene therapy to produce additional copies of the receptor in the animals' brains, the rats' drinking declined significantly. "There was a remarkable drop in alcohol preference," Thanos said.