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Researchers Discover Gene that Controls Reaction to Alcohol Withdrawal

Scientists have found a gene in mice that might control the reaction people have when they stop drinking alcohol. Charlene Sarmiento narrates.

A night on the town or a few drinks with friends can be fun, but researchers have discovered that frequent or excessive consumption causes your brain to adapt to the effects of alcohol, or ethanol. This process occurs in the brain cells of chronic drinkers by creating more molecules called receptors. These receptors then receive signals from other cells. This makes things harder for a person once they decide to quit drinking, putting the body through withdrawal.

Sid Strickland, of Rockefeller University in New York City explains this process. "If ethanol is abruptly withdrawn, the repressive or suppressive actions of ethanol go away, but you still have the receptors and you have a heightened sensitivity and that leads to a hyper-excitable state," he said.

Researchers at Rockefeller University have been working on the effects of alcohol and believe they have found a gene that will control the adaptation process. During the consumption of alcohol, a gene called tPA helps the brain create an enzyme that makes the extra receptors. They claim that using a drug called Ifenprodil can block tPA.

So far scientists have been able to lessen withdrawal symptoms in mice. Sid Strickland explains how this could help humans. He says, "The idea would be that if a person had chronically abused ethanol and wanted to stop that abuse you could possibly inhibit this enzyme and that would lessen the effects of the abrupt withdrawal." Although the use of Ifenprodil in human is years away, researchers have taken another step towards learning the effects of alcohol on the brain.