Taste of beer, without effect from alcohol, triggers dopamine release in the brain

April 15, 2013
Image: John White

The taste of beer, without any effect from alcohol itself, can trigger dopamine release in the brain, which is associated with drinking and other drugs of abuse, according to Indiana University School of Medicine researchers.

Using positron (PET), the researchers tested 49 men with two scans, one in which they tasted beer, and the second in which they tasted Gatorade, looking for evidence of increased levels of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter long associated with alcohol and other drugs of abuse. The scans showed significantly more dopamine activity following the taste of beer than the sports drink. Moreover, the effect was significantly greater among participants with a family history of alcoholism.

Results of the study were published online Monday by the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

"We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain's reward centers," said David A. Kareken, Ph.D., professor of neurology at the IU School of Medicine and the deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center.

The stronger effect in participants with close alcoholic relatives suggests that the release of dopamine in response to such alcohol-related cues may be an inherited risk factor for alcoholism, said Dr. Kareken.

Research for several decades has linked dopamine to the consumption of various drugs of abuse, although researchers have differing interpretations of the neurotransmitter's role. that are closely associated with drug intoxication (ranging from tastes and smells to the sight of a tavern) have long been known to spark cravings and induce treatment relapse in . Many neuroscientists believe that dopamine plays a critical role in such cravings.

The received a very small amount of their preferred beer—15 milliliters—over a 15-minute time period, enabling them to taste the beer without resulting in any detectable blood level or intoxicating effect.

Using a PET scanning compound that targets dopamine receptors in the brain, the researchers were able to assess changes in dopamine levels occurring after the participants tasted the liquids.

In addition to the PET scan results, participants reported an increased beer craving after tasting beer, without similar responses after tasting the sports drink—even though many thought the Gatorade actually tasted better, said Brandon G. Oberlin, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow and first author of the paper.

Explore further: Drinking alcohol shrinks critical brain regions in genetically vulnerable mice

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Autism-linked protein crucial for feeling pain

December 1, 2016

Sensory problems are common to autism spectrum disorders. Some individuals with autism may injure themselves repetitively—for example, pulling their hair or banging their heads—because they're less sensitive to pain than ...

Study provides neuronal mechanism for the benefits of fasting

December 1, 2016

A study from the Buck Institute offers for the first time an explanation for the benefits of fasting at the neuronal level, providing a possible mechanism for how fasting can afford health benefits. Publishing on December ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antonima
4 / 5 (4) Apr 15, 2013
isnt this much like pavlov's experiment where the sound of a bell will cause a trained dog to salivate even though no food is present? the article doesn't mention whether the study group consisted of drinkers, in which case their bodies would already be trained to respond to alcohol by releasing dopamine. if their study group was non-drinkers, THAT would make it much more intriguing.
dbsi
5 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2013
Yes, they would have to include a group which never consumed alcohol in there life and knows that it is beer without alcohol.
robtheviking
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 15, 2013
i'm pretty sure the first taste of beer to someone who have never tried beer will likely not trigger dopamine...only after the person has associated it with alcohol
JVK
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 15, 2013
Cause and effect most likely involves the GnRH (aka LHRH) neuronal system, which also links food odors and pheromones to dopaminergic rewards via classically conditioned responses. See: Alcohol inhibits luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone release by activating the endocannabinoid system. http://www.ncbi.n...14981261 and Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors http://dx.doi.org...i0.17338
Sinister1811
3 / 5 (4) Apr 16, 2013
But what is beer without alcohol? That's weak..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.