Scientists Study Brain Protein that Binds to Alcohol

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Scientists study protein in the brain that binds to alcohol, which could be a solution to alcoholism, according to a report published on June 5, 2018.

This study was conducted by a medicinal chemist, Joydip Das at the University of Houston, College of Pharmacy. According to Das, brain protein known as MUNC 13-1 plays a major role in the development of tolerance to alcoholism. Alcohol addiction is one of the most significant mental health problems observed throughout the world. Understanding how ethanol or alcohol leads to change in behavior and the brain during the descent into addiction is one of the major challenges. Moreover, developing tolerance is a critical step in that descent.

There is no point in one person being tolerant to a particular drink, as there will be many other drinks instead. Tolerance in drinkers can be reduced, if binding of alcohol into MUNC 13-1 protein can be stopped. By reducing tolerance, addiction can also be reduced. The brain protein binds to alcohol during brain synapse, during which one nerve cell or neuron passes a signal to another. The space at which binding takes place is known as the presynaptic space, which is a much understudied portion of the synapse mechanism.

Alcohol causes long-lasting changes in neural activity when exposed to binge alcohol. This further leads to change in both presynaptic and postsynaptic activity. Studies conducted so far has been on Drosophila genetic model system, which offers a simple model. Their activating protein is called Dunc13, which is equivalent to MUNC 13-1.

Das said, “Reduction in Dunc13 produces a behavioral and physiological resistance to sedative effects of ethanol. That makes MUNC 13-1 an important target for developing drugs. We need to develop a pill that would inhibit alcohol binding to MUNC 13 and reduce its activity. Based on our results so far, this would likely reduce the formation of tolerance, making it harder to become addicted to alcohol.”

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