Although scientists have known for years that cocaine, marijuana, and heroin interact with specific proteins in the brain, they have traditionally thought that alcohol had no such pointed effects.
Now University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have found evidence that alcohol inhibits the actions of key proteins called N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptors in specific regions of the brain.
"NMDA receptors in the brain are key sites of action of the neuro-transmitter glutamate, which increases the activity of brain neurons," said lead author Dr. Darin J. Knapp, research assistant professor of psychiatry at the university's School of Medicine. "Earlier investigations have shown that alcohol-NMDA interactions influence many features of alcohol exposure, including effects on fetal development, seizures, gene expression in brain, intoxication, tolerance to ethanol, and alcohol dependence."
The new study sought to induce and block Fos protein in brain as measured with Fos-like immunohistochemistry (Fos-LI), Dr. Knapp said. Fos proteins are known to reflect changes in cellular activity and participate in regulating gene activity.
Measurement of Fos-LI is a form of brain mapping that allows researchers to identify and note brain regions that change their activity after different challenges, such as alcohol consumption, he said. …