Research Briefs

Brain Chemical Could Be Link to Alcohol Consumption

By growing mice with altered brain chemicals, UW researchers may have found a key to alcohol consumption and its sedative effects.

Inside the brain is a naturally occurring brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, called neuropeptide Y (NPY). Using genetic engineering pioneered at the University, researchers bred mice without any NPY. They found that these mice drank significantly more alcohol and were less affected by its sedative, or sleep-inducing, effects than normal mice.

The group also grew mice with abnormally high levels of NPY. These mice drank less alcohol than normal mice and were highly prone to succumb to its sedative effects.

"This is the first direct demonstration that there are altered levels of alcohol consumption if you change the amount of NPY present in the brains of rodents," says Todd Thiele, a research scientist in psychology who headed the UW team along with Biochemistry Professor Richard Palmiter. "These data indicate that, in rodents, there is a relationship between NPY levels and the willingness to voluntarily consume alcohol."

The researchers cautioned that while their results with mice are convincing, further research is necessary to see if there is a relationship between NPY and alcohol consumption and abuse in humans.

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