PRINCETON, N.J., Dec 16, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- New Jersey researchers say a brain chemical that stokes hunger for food and fat also triggers thirst for alcohol and may play a role in chronic drinking.
The Princeton University team, in a study summarized in the latest issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, found that rats injected with galanin, a natural signaling agent in the brain, chose to drink increasing quantities of alcohol even while consuming normal amounts of food and water.
The finding helps explain one of the mechanisms involved in alcohol dependence and strengthens scientists' understanding of the neurological link between the desires for alcohol and food.
Galanin, a protein fragment called a neuropeptide, had previously been shown to play a role in appetite, particularly for fatty foods. Consumption of fat causes a part of the brain called the hypothalamus to produce more galanin, which, in turn, increases the appetite for fat. In a healthy person, however, there are counteracting signals that break this loop.
In animals given galanin and access to alcohol, the role of the chemical appeared to be subverted: it boosted alcohol intake instead of eating.
Copyright 2004 by United Press International.