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May lead to development of new
treatment drugs

SNMMI 2016: Groundbreaking PET/CT study finds specific brain receptor linked to alcohol addiction

por John W. Mitchell , Senior Correspondent
Alcoholism is a disorder that oftentimes leads to a continuous cycle of abuse. However, a new study revealed that using PET/CT to understand the connection between the mGluR5 brain receptor associated with reward and pleasure and the compulsion to drink may be the solution to long-term sobriety.

“This research is the first to provide direct in vivo evidence that mGluR5 is involved in the pathophysiology of alcohol addiction,” Dr. Gil Leurquin-Sterk, first author of the study and physician at the University Hospital Gasthuisberg in Leuven, Belgium, told HCB News. “Before this development, direct human evidence of its involvement in addiction was lacking and only suggested by animal models.”

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About seven percent of adults over the age of 18 have a drinking disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol-related deaths were deemed the fourth leading cause of preventable death, accounting for about 88,000 deaths annually in the U.S.

“Alcohol addiction is a complex, chronic brain disorder associated with enormous physical, social and financial consequences,” said Dr. Koen Van Laere, senior author of the study. “Our team was able to investigate, for the first time, these marked changes in the brain circuitry of alcohol-dependent humans.”

For the study, the researchers used PET/CT with the new PET F-18 FPEB imaging agent that binds to mGluR5. It was administered to 16 recently sober subjects, ranging from age 32 to 57 and 32 healthy control subjects with no history of alcoholism.

The results demonstrated a significant reduction in mGluR5 “availability” in the alcohol-dependent subjects compared to the control group, regardless of age, gender or smoking status.

These findings may help researchers develop new treatment drugs that limit receptor activity in patients who are at risk of relapsing. Leurquin-Sterk explained that mGluR5 antagonists could be effective in reducing craving upon alcohol withdrawal, which is in turn expected to reduce relapse.

"Collectively, these findings strongly substantiate the development of mGluR5-targeted therapies that heal or protect against the dysfunctional brain circuitry that characterizes alcohol addiction," said Gil Leurquin-Sterk.

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