Immune system linked to alcohol drinking behaviour

September 15, 2017 by David Ellis
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have found a new link between the brain's immune system and the desire to drink alcohol in the evening.

In laboratory studies using , researchers have been able to switch off the impulse to drink by giving mice a drug that blocks a specific response from the immune system in the brain.

Now published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, this study is one of the first of its kind to show a link between the brain's immunity and the motivation to drink alcohol at night.

"Alcohol is the world's most commonly consumed drug, and there is a greater need than ever to understand the that drive our need to drink alcohol," says lead author Jon Jacobsen, PhD student in the University of Adelaide's Discipline of Pharmacology.

"Our body's circadian rhythms affect the 'reward' signals we receive in the brain from drug-related behaviour, and the peak time for this reward typically occurs during the evening, or dark phase. We wanted to test what the role of the brain's immune system might have on that reward, and whether or not we could switch it off."

The researchers focused their attention on the immune receptor Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). They administered the drug (+)-Naltrexone (pronounced: PLUS-NAL-TREX-OWN), which is known to block TLR4, to mice.

"Our studies showed a significant reduction in alcohol behaviour by mice that had been given (+)-Naltrexone, specifically at night time when the reward for drug-related behaviour is usually at its greatest," Mr Jacobsen says.

"We concluded that blocking a specific part of the brain's immune system did in fact substantially decrease the motivation of mice to drink alcohol in the evening."

Senior author Professor Mark Hutchinson, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics at the University of Adelaide and leader of the Neuroimmunopharmacology lab in which this work was conducted, says these findings point to the need for further research to understand the implications for drinking behaviour in humans.

"Our study is part of an emerging field which highlights the importance of the 's immune system in the desire to drink alcohol. Given the drinking culture that exists in many nations around the world, including Australia, with associated addiction to alcohol and related health and societal issues, we hope our findings will lead to further studies."

Explore further: An immune regulator of addiction

More information: Jonathan Henry W. Jacobsen et al. The efficacy of (+)-Naltrexone on alcohol preference and seeking behaviour is dependent on light-cycle, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2017.08.021

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Origin314
not rated yet Sep 18, 2017
I have fairly severe DSPD (Delayed sleep phase disorder) and alcohol in moderation is one of the few things that helps me reliably, if I have 800-1500ml of a 5% German beer (I drink mostly German beer because of Reinheitsgebot's standards) after dinner between 7-9pm I am about 80% more likely to go to bed at a normal time and have an above average rest, any less and it doesn't seem to work, any more and there will be the negative effects of coming down off the alcohol which can keep me up.

Obviously anecdotal but perhaps people feel the need/want to drink in the evening because it will help them sleep as well but tend to go overboard, when you compare our work/sleep cycles to those of our ancestors they are wildly different and the alcohol may be helping to compensate somehow?

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