Brain deficits caused by alcohol could be reversed by new drug

Impacts of heavy alcohol consumption can be reversed by medication tandospirone.

Brain deficits caused by alcohol could be reversed by new drug
Image: Queensland University of Technology

Researchers of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have discovered a medication that could potentially assist our brains reboot and converse the lesion impacts of heavy alcohol consumption on the regeneration of brain cells.

During their study in adult mice demonstrate that two weeks of daily therapies with the medication tandospirone reversed the impacts of 15 weeks of binge-like alcohol consumption on neurogenesis – the ability of the brain to cultivate and replace neurons (brain cells).

Inferences of this study areas

  • This is the first time tandospirone has to be shown to reverse the deficit in brain neurogenesis induced by heavy alcohol consumption
  • Tandospirone acts selectively on a serotonin receptor (5-HT1A)
  • The researchers also showed in mice that the drug was effective in stopping anxiety-like behaviors associated with alcohol withdrawal, and this was accompanied by a significant decrease in binge-like alcohol intake

Selena Bartlett neuroscientist from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation said, “This is a novel discovery that tandospirone can reverse the deficit in neurogenesis caused by alcohol.”

“We know that with heavy drinking you are inhibiting your ability to grow new neurons, brain cells. Alcohol is specifically very damaging to neurons.”

“Other studies in mice have shown that tandospirone improves brain neurogenesis, but this is the first time it has been shown that it can totally reverse the neurogenic deficits induced by alcohol.

“This opens the way to look at if neurogenesis is associated with other substance-abuse deficits, such as in memory and learning, and whether this compound can reverse these.”

Professor Bartlett, who is based at the Translational Research Institute, said the discovery by study co-authors QUT postdoctoral research fellows Dr. Arnauld Belmer and Dr. Omkar Patkar came about serendipitously after research started in a different direction.

Dr. Belmer said, “It was surprising and exciting.”

“This drug is relatively new and available only in China and Japan. It is commonly used there and shown to be highly effective in treating general anxiety and well tolerated with limited adverse effects.”

Professor Bartlett said researchers are consistently looking at new treatment strategies for alcohol abuse and addiction, which is characterized by extended periods of heavy alcohol use, binges and abstinence, and anxiety and depression which contribute to relapse.

She added, “This is not just another drug that shows promise in helping to reduce binge drinking.”

“While it could possibly have that effect, it might be able to help reboot the brain and reverse the deficits the alcohol abuse causes – both the inhibition of the brain’s ability to regenerate, and the behavioural consequences that come from what alcohol is doing to the brain, like increases in anxiety and depression.”

The research is published online in the journal Scientific Reports.