If there is a drug that can contain craving for alcohol, it would be a hit overnight throughout the world. That is precisely what Iowa University researchers are trying to discover and they are halfway through recently identifying the protein that causes the craving for alcohol called RGS6 (regulator of G protein that sends signals).
The gene RGS6 also acts on alcohol-induced cell destruction in heart, liver and other body organs. “We propose that inhibiting this RGS6 protein could represent a new approach to counteract alcohol dependence and at the same time protect against the cell-killing actions of alcohol in the heart and liver,” said Iowa researchers about their finding.
In their study, the UI team led by Rory Fisher, professor of pharmacology in the UI Carver College of Medicine, used mice with the gene and those without the gene RGS6 to probe the protein’s roles in both alcohol craving and organ damage.
To their surprise, the researchers found that mice without the RGS6 protein consumed less alcohol than wild-type mice though given free access and they are found less susceptible to alcohol-induced reward and had less severe and shorter-lived alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
When mice that lacked the RGS6 protein were treated chronically with alcohol, they experienced less damage to heart and liver as well as the lining of the gut compared to mice with the protein.
Backed by the findings, Fisher asserts: “To our knowledge RGS6 is the only gene with a demonstrated ability to promote alcohol-seeking behaviors while simultaneously worsening the damaging effects of alcohol consumption on the heart, stomach, intestine and liver.”
In the brain, RSG6 is involved in alcohol craving by controlling levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with addiction and in the heart and liver, RSG6’s effect is that it causes cell death through production of damaging compounds called reactive oxygen species.
The UI team suggests that targeting the actions of RGS6 might help control alcohol craving and also act on alcohol-induced destruction of cells in heart and liver, besides gut. However, they say the dual effect through different biological pathways requires separate drugs.
In the US, alcoholism affects 20 percent of women and 40 percent of men, besides triggering accidents and violent crime, and also causes damage to the heart and liver.
The study has been published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).