The amygdala is a small almond-shaped region situated deep inside the brain. It controls how we exhibit emotion, behavior and motivation. This is the reason why this part of the brain is strongly implicated in alcohol abuse. But what if we could reverse alcohol addiction by targeting this part of the brain? In a new study, scientists from Scripps Research Institute found a specific anti-inflammatory protein in the amygdala responsible for driving alcohol addiction.
Regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol compromises brain immune cells, which are important for maintaining healthy neurons. This resulting damage fuels anxiety and alcohol drinking, which in turn may lead to alcohol use disorder. By countering this process, the researchers were able to stop excessive alcohol consumption—revealing a potential treatment path for alcohol use disorder.
In the study, the team focused on an immune protein prevalent in the brain called Interleukin 10, or IL-10 for short. IL-10 is known to have incredibly powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It plays a central role in limiting the body’s immune response to disease threats. This is done in order to prevent excess inflammation that could otherwise be harmful to the body. In the brain, IL-10 helps to limit inflammation from injury or disease, such as stroke or Alzheimer’s. But it also appears to influence key behaviors associated with chronic alcohol use.
In mice with chronic alcohol use, IL-10 was strongly reduced in the amygdala and didn’t signal properly to neurons, contributing to increased alcohol intake. Researchers observed a big reduction in anxiety-like behaviors and motivation to drink alcohol by simply increasing IL-10 signaling in the brain.
These findings showed that inflammatory immune responses in the brain are very much at play in the development of alcohol use disorder. But perhaps more importantly, they provided a new framework for therapeutic intervention, pointing to anti-inflammatory mechanisms.