Employing advanced technologies that allow whole brain imaging at single-cell resolution, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that in an alcohol-dependent mouse model, the rodent brain's functional architecture is substantially remodeled. But when deprived of alcohol, the mice displayed increased coordinated brain activity and reduced modularity compared to nondrinker or casual drinker mice.
The findings, published in the January 14, 2020 online issue of PNAS , also identified several previously unsuspected regions of the brain relevant to alcohol consumption, providing new research targets for better understanding and treatment of alcohol dependence in humans.
The neuroscience of addiction has made tremendous progress, but the focus has always been on a limited number of brain circuits and neurotransmitters, primarily dopaminergic neurons, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
Research groups have been fighting for years about whether 'their' brain circuit is the key to addiction. Our results confirm these regions are important, but the fact that we see such a massive remodeling of the functional brain architecture was a real shock. It's like studying the solar system and then discovering that there is an entire universe behind it. It shows that if you really want to understand the neurobiological mechanisms leading to addiction, you can't just look at a handful of brain regions, you need to look at the entire brain, you need to take a step back and consider the whole organ." Olivier George, PhD, senior author, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine
George said the findings further undermine the idea that addiction is simply a psychological condition or consequence of lifestyle. "You would be surprised at how prevalent this view remains," he said. "The brain-wide remodeling of the functional architecture observed here is not 'normal.' It is not observed in a naïve animal. It is not observed in an animal that drinks recreationally. It is only observed in animals with a history of alcohol dependence and it is massive. Such a decrease in brain modularity has been observed in numerous brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury and seizure disorders." Related Stories
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