Featured Paper of the Month – October 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. In rodent experiments, blocking the ghrelin receptor suppresses alcohol seeking and consumption. In a series of preclinical and clinical experiments, NIDA/NIAAA scientists investigated a novel drug that blocks the ghrelin receptor in a population of alcohol-dependent heavy drinking individuals. The main goal of this study was to assess the safety of this new medication when co-administered with alcohol. First, experiments were performed in rats and indicated no safety concerns. Then, the NIDA/NIAAA team moved to a small controlled human study where this novel medication and alcohol were co-administered to heavy alcohol drinkers. Consistent with the rat experiments, the human study indicated the safety of the drug, with no evident drug-alcohol interactions. Very preliminary results from the human study also indicated that this novel medication might reduce cravings for alcohol and food. These findings support the notion that the ghrelin system may be further examined as a novel treatment target for addictive disorders.
Mol Psychiatry, 2018, ISSN: 1476-5578 (Electronic); 1359-4184 (Linking).