Scripps Research team awarded $2 million to study brain circuitry driving alcohol dependence

Neuroscientist Candice Contet and colleagues to take a close look how an understudied brain region promotes alcohol drinking.

August 15, 2018

Neuroscientists at Scripps Research have been awarded a grant of more than $2 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study how an understudied brain region promotes alcohol drinking.

Candice Contet, PhD, an associate professor at Scripps Research, will lead the five-year project. The work will build on her past success in identifying a cluster of neurons linked to the symptoms of alcohol dependence in mice. These neurons are located in a small region of the brain called the parasubthalamic nucleus, and are “strategically positioned to influence motivated behaviors,” says Contet.

With the new project, Contet and her colleagues aim to understand the neural circuits that produce the behavioral abnormalities associated with alcohol dependence and drive the activation of parasubthalamic neurons during alcohol withdrawal. “Identifying neural circuits whose dysregulation causes the behavioral symptoms of alcohol use disorders may enable the development of better treatments,” Contet says. 

Neural circuits work as an interesting middle-man in the brain. Genetic and environmental factors are known to influence the risk of developing alcohol use disorders. Their effects are thought to converge at the level of a limited number of neural circuits. According to Contet, the parasubthalamic nucleus may be a critical node of the neuronal network recruited in alcohol dependence. 

Contet and her co-investigators Olivier George, PhD, and Marisa Roberto, PhD, of Scripps Research, will leverage modern neuroscience methods to manipulate neuronal activity and label neurons based on their neurochemical makeup, connectivity and activity. George’s team will perform whole-brain imaging and Roberto’s team will collect electrophysiological recordings for the project. “These techniques are important to provide anatomical and functional insights into the neural circuitry engaged by alcohol dependence,” Contet says.

The number of the grant is 1RO1AA026685.

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