Identification of neurons that promote compulsive alcohol use
Michel van den Oever and Esther Visser were involved in a study on compulsive alcohol use led by Markus Heilig and Esi Domi at the Linköping University in Sweden. Using the viral-TRAP technique developed by the CNCR Memory Circuits team, they identified a small population of PKC-delta-expressing neurons in the central amygdala that drives footshock-punished alcohol intake. Their findings are published in Science Advances.
Although most alcohol consumers can control their alcohol intake, a minority will persist in drinking of alcohol despite negative consequences, such as health issues, loss of a job or social isolation. This compulsive alcohol use can be modeled in rats by pairing operant alcohol self-administration with adverse footshocks. Domi and colleagues found that, similar to humans, a small fraction of rats is resistant to this negative consequence and will continue to self-administer alcohol. In this resistant subpopulation, they discovered that PKC-delta-expressing neurons in the central amygdala are activated during punished-alcohol self-administration. Selective suppression of these activated neurons in the central amygdala (using viral-TRAP) or local knock-down of PKCdelta expression reduced alcohol consumption. Together, this study reveals a novel neuronal substrate that controls compulsive alcohol use.