Vol 8. Issue 16 / May 12, 2008

New International Agreement Advances Study of Alcoholism

By Mika Ono

The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and the Institut de Génétique et Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire (IGBMC) in Strasbourg, France, have entered into an agreement that aims to advance research on the biological basis of alcohol abuse. The research may uncover keys to vulnerability to alcoholism and help to develop new approaches for treating the condition.

The four-year agreement formalizes ties between the laboratories of two leaders in the field of alcohol research, George Koob, chair of the Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders and co-director of the Pearson Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at Scripps Research, and Brigitte Kieffer, professor and chair of the Neurobiology and Genetics Department at the IGBMC. The agreement also provides for the exchange and training of young researchers in their groups.

"The new agreement builds on The Scripps Research Institute's tradition of successful scientific collaborations," says Richard A. Lerner, president of Scripps Research, "and expands our exceptional research program in the field of alcohol and addiction research."

"I'm excited about this development," says Koob. "The collaboration brings together the behavioral neuropharmacology expertise of my group in La Jolla with the outstanding molecular biology skills of Dr. Kieffer's lab in Strasbourg, setting the stage for important new discoveries. In addition, because the agreement includes a training component, we will have resources available to mentor the next generation of researchers in the field."

The collaboration will be jointly funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its French counterpart, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM).

Ting-Kai Li, director of NIAAA, noted, "The establishment of this collaboration is an excellent example of how leading investigators in two countries can work together to reduce the global problems of alcohol abuse and addiction. Through the scientific work and the training of new investigators in this joint project, NIAAA and INSERM are leveraging valuable research funds from both countries to address a common health issue."

According to NIAAA, in the United States, 17.6 million people (about one in every 12 adults) abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, is a disease whose symptoms include craving alcohol; loss of control of alcohol consumption; withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, after the cessation of drinking; and tolerance, the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to experience the same effects.

Under the new agreement, the Scripps Research and University of Strasbourg labs will jointly conduct a project titled, "Brain Stress Systems, Extended Amygdala, and Vulnerability to Alcoholism." In the project, the team will use advanced DNA technology to selectively activate or inactivate certain genes in mouse models to better understand the neurobiology underpinning alcohol addiction.

"Our scientific goals are to identify the molecular basis for the development of alcoholism and vulnerability to addiction," says Koob. "Ultimately, a better understanding of the changes in the brain associated with alcohol abuse could help us develop new approaches to treating the disease."

The Koob and Kieffer laboratories have been working together for more than 10 years. Their collaboration has been remarkably productive, resulting in a number of key findings. One publication in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (Vol. 293, Issue 3, 1002-1008, June 2000), for example, showed that when the gene for the µ-opioid receptor was disabled, mice did not self-administer alcohol.

The training portion of the new agreement is already under way. Research Associate Candice Contet, a young scientist from the University of Strasbourg, recently arrived in the Koob lab in California to expand her knowledge of how the techniques of behavioral neuropharmacology can be applied to the study alcohol dependence.


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu
















"The establishment of this collaboration is an excellent example of how leading investigators in two countries can work together to reduce the global problems of alcohol abuse and addiction."

—Ting-Kai Li, director of NIAAA