NEW YORK — Scientists, including Indian American Joydip Das, have identified a brain protein linked to alcohol tolerance, a finding that may pave the way for a cure for alcoholism.
The team has found that a brain protein called MUNC 13-1 plays a pivotal role in the development of tolerance to alcohol.
“Addiction to alcohol remains one of the most significant mental health problems throughout the world. A major challenge is to understand how ethanol, or alcohol, changes behavior and the brain during the descent into addiction,” said Das, who works at the University of Houston in Texas.
Das explained that developing tolerance is a critical step in the descent into alcoholism.
“If a person becomes tolerant of one drink, he will have another and maybe another. If we could stop alcohol from binding into MUNC 13-1, it will help problem drinkers in reducing tolerance. If we can reduce tolerance we can reduce addiction,” he noted.
According to the study, published in the journal eNeuro, MUNC 13-1 binds to alcohol in a brain synapse, where one nerve cell, or neuron, passes a signal to another.
During binge alcohol exposure, alcohol creates widespread and long-lasting changes in neural activity, altering both presynaptic and postsynaptic activity.
For the study, the team developed a genetic model system in fruit flies, creating and activating a protein called Dunc13, which is equivalent to MUNC 13-1.
“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,” he said.