Reducing alcoholism relapse by erasing specific memories

Jerusalem, June 25 (IANS) Researchers in Israel have found a way to prevent relapse in alcoholism by blocking a molecule that activates memories associated with drinking, therefore reducing the craving for alcohol.

However, the study which began in 2010 has only been tried successfully in rats so far, Xinhua reported.

But researcher Segev Barak from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Sagol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University is confident that the study could be applied to humans.

The researcher was part of the study led by Dorit Ron, also an Israeli, of the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UC San Francisco.

Their published paper in Nature Neuroscience could help put a stop to the relapse, which affects 80 percent of rehabilitating alcoholics, by erasing the memories of the alcohol cravings.

The study showed that when the rats were given the option between drinking water and low doses of alcohol, 60 percent pressed a level that provided them the latter one, and when the dosage increased, so did their dependence on the alcohol.

"What we found is that when we gave them a 10-day period of abstinence and gave them certain memories of the alcohol, they triggered the need for this substance. We gave the rats a small amount of alcohol and then scanned their brain to see the reaction, and found that a protein called MPORC1 was activating the neurons in very specific areas of the brain," Barak told Xinhua.

Thanks to this protein, that is implicated in the connection between the neurons, the researchers were able to see exactly which areas of the brain were involved, and were able to "disconnect" this protein in these specific parts of the brain.

"We used a drug called Rapamycin that prevents the activation of the protein. Usually, when it comes to relapses, you have a window of opportunity of four to six hours to prevent the memory from becoming stable, from settling in, so by erasing the memory while it is still not 'hooked', the brain does not remember it," Barak said.

He said the advantage was that no other memories are erased, since they can trace with complete assurance where the memories of the alcohol are.