Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have discovered that a brain protein plays a key role in controlling binge drinking in animal tests.
They found that deleting the gene for this protein in mice ramped up their alcohol consumption and prevented the brain from signaling the rewarding properties of alcohol.
“Alcohol hits a lot of different targets in our brain, which makes disentangling the in vivo effects of alcohol quite complicated,” said biologist Candice Contet, senior author of the study. “Our study sheds light on the molecular mechanisms implicated in binge drinking.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking — defined as drinking to the point of intoxication — puts people at greater risk for health problems such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease and neurological damage.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The protein studied is a member of the “G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium channel,” or GIRK, family in the behavioral and cellular responses to alcohol.