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Glutamate may play a role in alcohol cravings

The discovery of a link between glutamate and drug cravings may spark new treatments.

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Researchers at Indiana University have found a correlation between the neurotransmitter glutamate and alcohol addiction.

In the study, as published in the Journal of Alcohol and Alcoholism, a total of 35 participants were examined: 17 with alcohol addiction and 18 without addiction.

The study adds more weight to previous findings regarding sights and sounds, also known as “cues,” which in alcohol abuse disorder can alter glutamate levels in the brain. Glutamate is a vital neurotransmitter responsible for learning and memory, among other things.

“Glutamate is the real workhorse of all transmitters in the brain,” said George Rebec, a researcher in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University.

To measure changes in glutamate levels, researchers employed a diagnostic imaging technique known as magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

“The glutamate concentration was measured with single-voxel 1H-MR spectroscopy at the dorsal anterior cingulate. Two MRS sessions were performed in succession, the first to establish basal glutamate levels and the second to measure the change in response to alcohol cues,” the study reads.

Based on the findings, participants with alcohol abuse disorder had decreased levels of glutamate after viewing pictures of liquor, or cues. In the group without alcohol addiction, the cues did not alter their glutamate levels.

“Collectively, our results indicate that glutamate in key areas of the forebrain reward circuit is modulated by alcohol cues in early alcohol dependence,” the study concluded.

Given the results of the study, researchers are now looking at new ways to develop effective treatments for alcoholism.

“Scientists can now confidently target glutamate levels in the brain as they develop new treatments for alcoholism and other forms of addiction.”

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