Behavioral test shows promise in predicting future problems with alcohol

by Bill Hathaway
Image via Shutterstock

(Medical Xpress)—By administering a simple behavioral test, Yale researchers were able to predict which mice would later exhibit alcoholism-related behaviors such as the inability to stop seeking alcohol and a tendency to relapse, the scientists report in the Aug. 26 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The findings suggest that a similar test for people might be able to identify individuals who are at high risk of developing before they begin drinking.

"We are trying to understand the neurobiology underlying for alcoholism," said Jane Taylor, the Charles B.G. Murphy Professor of Psychiatry and professor of psychology at the Yale School of Medicine and senior author of the study. "What is encouraging about this study is that we have identified both a behavioral indicator and a molecule that explains that risk."

Many high school- and college-aged students abuse alcohol during their school years, but only a minority end up dependent upon alcohol later in life. While there is a clear for alcoholism, not all children of alcoholics become dependent. Scientists have been busy trying to find ways to predict which adolescents are at greatest risk before drinking begins.

In a classic Pavlovian experiment, the Yale team found mice that reacted the most to a food cue also exhibited greater alcoholism-related behaviors. Importantly, the mice did not differ in other food-seeking behaviors. The researchers also identified a role for neural (NCAM) and its modified form, PSA-NCAM, known to be involved in . Mice with low levels of PSA-NCAM in an area of the seemed unable to control their alcohol-seeking behavior, while the reward-seeking behavior of mice with higher levels of the molecule was more flexible and less indicative of addiction.

"This would make sense since alcoholism is associated with a lack of neurobiological and behavioral plasticity," Taylor said. "The brains of alcoholics seem to get stuck in the same patterns of activity."

Related Stories

Heredity behind subjective effects of alcohol

May 23, 2011

Scientists have long known that people who have a close relative with alcohol problems themselves run an increased risk of starting to abuse alcohol. The reason for this has not been known, but a new study from the University ...

Recommended for you

Steering the filaments of the developing brain

14 hours ago

During brain development, nerve fibers grow and extend to form brain circuits. This growth is guided by molecular cues (Fig. 1), but exactly how these cues guide axon extension has been unclear. Takuro Tojima ...

Do we really only use 10% of our brain?

15 hours ago

As the new film Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman is set to be released in the cinemas this week, I feel I should attempt to dispel the unfounded premise of the film – that we only use 10% of our brains ...

Birthday matters for wiring-up the brain's vision centers

Jul 31, 2014

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have evidence suggesting that neurons in the developing brains of mice are guided by a simple but elegant birth order rule that allows them to find ...

User comments