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Rats on the grog: Novel pharmacotherapies for alcohol craving

By Iain S. Mcgregor and Jason E. Gallate


Current pharmacotherapies for alcohol dependence in humans (e.g., naltrexone, acamprosate) are meeting with only limited therapeutic success. The development of novel pharmacotherapies is urgently needed but is reliant upon the screening of large numbers of candidate ‘‘anticraving’ ’ drugs using appropriate animal models. The development of animal models is complex because (1) laboratory animals are often reluctant to consume large quantities of alcohol, (2) inducing a state of alcohol dependence, analogous to the human condition, may require many months of alcohol exposure, (3) concluding that a given drug selectively reduces alcohol craving requires very carefully controlled experiments, and (4) false positives and false negatives may result from the sometimes distinct physiology and psychology of the alcohol-addicted human and rat. To address some of these problems, our laboratory has recently developed the ‘‘beer model’ ’ of alcohol dependence and craving. Rats, like humans, have a prodigious appetite for beer and will drink much more beer than equivalent ethanol solutions in water. Beer consumption in rats leads to clear signs of intoxication, anxiety reduction, and signs of withdrawal when beer access is suddenly denied. We have found that beer craving in rats is selectively reduced by the cannabinoid receptor antagonist SR 141716 and the opioid receptor antagonist naltrexone. Combining these two drugs appears to have a synergistic anticraving effect. Other promising pharmacotherapies for the future are discussed

Year: 2004
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