Featured Paper of the Month – March 2018.
Understanding the neurobiological substrates of excessive alcohol consumption may substantially facilitate efforts to develop better treatments. The cross-talk between the gastrointestinal and central nervous systems, often referred to as the gut–brain axis, is a promising yet underexplored domain in this regard. Ghrelin is a hormone primarily produced by the stomach and known for its role in increasing appetite and food intake (the “hunger hormone”). Recent animal and human studies suggest that ghrelin may also be involved in alcohol-seeking behaviors. For the first time in humans, NIDA/NIAAA scientists investigated whether and how exogenous ghrelin administration may impact alcohol intake and brain function in regions associated with alcohol-related behaviors in heavy-drinking, alcohol-dependent individuals. Results indicated that intravenous ghrelin, compared to placebo, significantly increased the number of alcohol infusions self-administered. Participants also started infusing alcohol sooner under ghrelin than placebo. Furthermore, ghrelin significantly influenced the brain activity in regions involved in alcohol- and food-seeking, including amygdala, medial orbitofrontal cortex, and nucleus accumbens. These findings shed light on the role of ghrelin in the neurobiology of excessive alcohol consumption, and together with previous human and rodent work, provide rationale for studying the ghrelin system as a novel treatment target for addictive disorders.
Mol Psychiatry, 2017, ISSN: 1476-5578 (Electronic); 1359-4184 (Linking).