Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Who Is at Risk? Population Characterization of Alcohol Self-Administration in Nonhuman Primates Helps Identify Pathways to Dependence

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Who Is at Risk? Population Characterization of Alcohol Self-Administration in Nonhuman Primates Helps Identify Pathways to Dependence

Article excerpt

Alcohol abuse and dependence are human conditions for which no full equivalent exists in animals. Nevertheless, animal models frequently are used to study various aspects of alcohol dependence that cannot be easily or ethically assessed in humans, including neurobiological mechanisms underlying alcohol dependence. Many of these animal models involve rodents; however, the characteristics (i.e., phenotypes) of chronic heavy drinking may be limited in these species. Nonhuman primates add an important translational aspect to the study of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Their genetic, anatomical, physiological, and behavioral similarity to humans offers unique opportunities for identifying risk factors that may predispose a person to or accelerate the course of alcohol addiction. Studying alcohol consumption in nonhuman primates, including the distribution of drinking levels in a population, also can be uniquely informative to alcohol research. For example, research on the self-administration procedures in primates can help scientists identify risk factors for excessive alcohol consumption in humans. The phenotype of excessive drinking then can serve as the starting point to test and verify the underlying genetic and environmental influences. The resulting findings, in turn, can help guide prevention and treatment strategies. KEY WORDS: Monkey, alcoholism, selfadministration, behavior, risk, genetics

Alcohol addiction-or alcohol dependence-is a chronic and progressive disorder that has a significant detrimental impact on the drinker, his or her family and community, and society as a whole. Accordingly, it is important to identify the mechanisms contributing to the development of alcohol dependence as well as the factors that increase an individual's risk of becoming alcohol dependent. Only with this knowledge will researchers and clinicians be able to develop new treatment approaches and effective interventions to reduce or prevent the development of alcohol problems in people at risk. One important step is to identify the neurobiological mechanisms that are affected by alcohol use and/or which drive alcohol use and the progression to dependence. Although alcohol dependence is a uniquely human disease that does not occur naturally in animals, animal models frequently are used to study various aspects of the development of alcohol dependence and its consequences because the corresponding experiments would not be feasible or ethical to conduct in humans. This is particularly true in the area of neuroscience, where direct analyses of brain pathways are limited in living individuals (e.g., measurements using imaging methods that reflect alcoholinduced changes in brain function).

Most animal models of alcohol dependence involve rodents, which are easy to obtain in sufficiently large numbers and also have short generation times, so that the effects of excessive alcohol exposure can be rapidly determined. However, the lifespan and stages of development, the neuroanatomical and physiological complexity, and the social behavior of rodents and humans differ to such an extent that not all aspects of the human condition can be adequately modeled or are sufficiently transferable to humans. Nonhuman primates, in contrast, although lacking in a number of ways, offer researchers the ability to model aspects of the human condition more closely.

Monkeys and apes1 (i.e., nonhuman primates) have a rich history as experimental animals in the study of biomedical disease processes (http://www.primate.wisc.edu/pin/) because they are most similar to humans in that they have relatively long lifespans, go through parallel developmental stages, and share similar genetic predispositions. The value of nonhuman primate studies is particularly evident in research aimed at assessing the risk of developing behavioral disorders, because like humans, nonhuman primates experience complex social and affective processes. The basic data generated by studies of nonhuman primates then can be followed with experimental designs that address the underlying mechanisms of the disorder under investigation and can be the basis for the development of targeted prevention and therapy. …

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