Behavioral test shows promise in predicting future problems with alcohol

August 27, 2012 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."

Explore further: New strain of lab mice mimics human alcohol consumption patterns

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