Alcoholism has been highly detrimental to social development and progress worldwide with over 2.5 million deaths annually being attributed to it. It is the third largest risk factor for disease burden all over the globe, highlighting the dire need for reducing alcohol dependence among populations. Years of research have not been able to identify a molecular target of alcohol, thus making abstinence the prime method to cure alcohol related damage to the body.
A recent study by researchers in Iowa has identified a potential jackpot candidate for serving this purpose of reducing alcohol cravings while simultaneously protecting the heart and the liver from its adverse effects.
This study performed in mice has established that a product of a specific gene, RSG6 (regulator of G protein) plays diverse roles in different cellular contexts to protect the body from alcohol abuse. Mice that lack this gene (RSG6-/- mice) exhibited a voluntary reduction in alcohol consumption. Interestingly, these mice also showed more resistance to alcohol induced heart damage, fat build up in the liver as well as endotoxin levels in the blood.
The work has shown that RSG6 plays this dual role by two different mechanisms. In the brain, RSG6 alters the availability of dopamine, a molecule involved in transmitting addiction and reward-seeking behaviour messages between the brain cells. On the other hand, in the liver and heart, RSG6 causes cell death by inducing the production of toxic reactive oxygen species.
Rory Fisher, lead author in the study says “Given the prevalence of alcohol abuse worldwide there is a clear need for more effective therapeutics. We propose that inhibiting this RGS6 protein could represent a new approach to counteract alcohol dependence and at the same time protect against the cell-killing actions of alcohol in the heart and liver.”
The original paper can be accessed here.