New findings from scientists at The Scripps Research Institute provide evidence that the drug gabapentin affects certain components of the alcohol addiction cycle in the brain, supporting the idea that the medication, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating seizures and pain, also holds potential for the treatment of alcohol dependence.
In the new research, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the scientists found that gabapentin normalizes the action of certain brain cells altered by chronic alcohol abuse in an area of the brain known as the central amygdala.
This area plays an important role in fear- and stress-related behaviors, as well as in regulating alcohol drinking. In the study, alcohol-dependent rodents receiving gabapentin drank less alcohol.
“The results are exciting,” said Scripps Research assistant professor Marisa Roberto, Ph.D., who was first author of the study. “Our research shows that gabapentin not only changes the alcohol-consumption patterns of addicted rats (and not of the control group), but also may reverse some of the effects of addiction on a specific neurotransmitter in the brain.”
In previous studies, gabapentin has been shown to effectively treat alcohol withdrawal and reduce alcohol consumption and cravings following detoxification in alcoholics. However, how gabapentin could act to combat alcohol dependence in the brain has been unclear.
The scientists plan to further explore the mechanism of action of gabapentin in the brain. In addition, clinical trials on the effectiveness of gabapentin as a treatment for alcohol dependence are currently under way at The Scripps Research Institute.