WEDNESDAY, Aug. 9 (HealthDay News) -- A key brain protein may play an important role in both drinking and anxiety, U.S. researchers report.
"In people, alcoholism is very frequently associated with anxiety disorders. And it is well established that high levels of anxiety promote alcohol consumption and also play a crucial role in relapse to alcohol drinking," study lead author Dr. Subhash Pandey, professor of psychiatry and anatomy and cell biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, said in a prepared statement.
"Our study suggests a molecular, neurochemical mechanism in the amygdala which may be responsible for the association of high levels of anxiety with excessive alcohol-drinking behavior," said Pandey, whose team published its findings in the Aug. 9 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
In their study, the researchers reduced the expression of protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in three areas of the amygdala, a brain area associated with emotion and fear.
Lower levels of BDNF in the central and medial areas of the amygdala resulted in an increase of both anxiety and alcohol consumption by the rats.
When BDNF injections were used to restore levels of the protein to normal, the rat's anxiety and alcohol consumption diminished, the study said.
Decreased levels of BDNF in the third area, the basolateral amygdala, had no effect on the rats.
BDNF plays an important role in the growth and maintenance of neurons. Previous human studies have suggested that BDNF gene variation may be associated with anxiety disorders and alcoholism.
The finding may help in the development of new drugs to treat or prevent anxiety and alcoholism, the researchers said.
The American Medical Association has more about alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
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