Researchers in Australia have identified a drug they say could reverse the damage heavy drinking does to brain cells.
Their studies in adult mice, conducted at The Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Queensland, indicated that two weeks of daily treatment with the drug tandospirone reversed the effects of 15 weeks of heavy alcohol consumption on neurogenesis — the ability of the brain to grow and replace neurons, i.e., brain cells.
The findings have been published in Scientific Reports.
The study marks the first time tandospirone has be shown to reverse the deficit in brain neurogenesis caused by heavy drinking. Tandospirone acts selectively on a specific serotonin receptor identified by the researchers – 5-HT1A.
The researchers also showed in mice that the drug was effective in stopping anxiety-like behaviors associated with alcohol withdrawal. This was accompanied by a significant decrease in binge-like alcohol intake, they reported.
Tandospirone (brand name Sediel) is an anxiolytic and antidepressant drug used in China and Japan, where it is marketed by Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma. It is a member of the azapirone class of drugs and is closely related to other azapirones like buspirone and gepirone.
“This is a novel discovery that tandospirone can reverse the deficit in neurogenesis caused by alcohol,” said study leader neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett, from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation. “We know that with heavy drinking you are inhibiting your ability to grow new neurons, brain cells. Alcohol is specifically very damaging for neurons.
“Other studies in mice have shown that tandospirone improves brain neurogenesis, but this is the first time it has been shown that it can totally reverse the neurogenic deficits induced by alcohol.
“This opens the way to look at if neurogenesis is associated with other substance-abuse deficits, such as in memory and learning, and whether this compound can reverse these.”
Bartlett, who is based at the Translational Research Institute, said the discovery by study co-authors Arnauld Belmer and Omkar Patkar came about serendipitously, as a result of research begun with a different objective. “It was surprising, and exciting,” Belmer said.
Bartlett said researchers are constantly looking at new treatment strategies for alcohol abuse and addiction, which is characterized by extended periods of heavy alcohol use, binges and abstinence, and anxiety and depression which contribute to relapse.
“This is not just another drug that shows promise in helping to reduce binge drinking,” she said. “While it could possibly have that effect, it might be able to help reboot the brain and reverse the deficits the alcohol abuse causes — both the inhibition to the brain’s ability to regenerate, and the behavioral consequences that come from what alcohol is doing to the brain, like increases in anxiety and depression.”
Scientists say the damage that occurs as a result of the direct neurotoxic effects of alcohol intoxication or acute withdrawal is most severe in the frontal lobes. Other regions of the brain are also affected, along with the central nervous system.
The damage that occurs from heavy drinking and high blood alcohol levels causes impairments in judgement and decision making and social skills. These brain changes are linked to poor behavioral control and impulsivity, which tend to worsen the existing addiction problem