The biological basis of alcoholism and addiction

Alcoholism has been classified as a disease by the American Medical Association since the 1950’s and it’s now well-known that genetics play a key role. What’s less well understood is the underlying biology that leads some, but not others, to succumb to addiction. Dr. Eleonora Gatta is focused on addressing that missing link, and believes the answer may lie in a brain receptor responsible for stress management. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research…

My research focuses on the long-term molecular adaptations induced by alcohol consumption in the brain. Stress has long been considered one of the mechanisms that contributes to both the development and the maintenance of alcohol use disorder. Repeated cycles of alcohol intoxication and withdrawal are known to alter the activity of the stress system.

My research focuses on the long-term molecular adaptations induced by alcohol consumption in the brain. Stress has long been considered one of the mechanisms that contributes to both the development and the maintenance of alcohol use disorder. 

My work aims at investigating the epigenetic mechanisms regulating the expression of genes that play a key role in the adaptive response to environmental insults, with a particular focus on the glucocorticoid receptor – the primary mediator of the stress response. The alcohol-dependent aberrant epigenetic regulation of glucocorticoid receptor might be fundamental in the pathophysiology of alcohol use disorder. Studying this epigenetic regulation might be a putative strategy for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, including alcohol addiction. 

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

The brain is one of the most important organs that allows an individual to respond to the environment. Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption changes the function of the brain, leading in some individual to the development of addiction. While considerable advances have been made in our understanding of the underlying cause of alcohol use disorder, the exact mechanisms contributing to the development and the maintenance of the disorder are still largely unknown.

While considerable advances have been made in our understanding of the underlying cause of alcohol use disorder, the exact mechanisms contributing to the development and the maintenance of the disorder are still largely unknown.

Studying the changes induced by alcohol consumption will help our understanding of addictive disorders and help finding better therapeutic approaches.

How could it someday impact patient lives?

Studying the long-term effects of alcohol on the brain is fundamental to develop therapeutic approaches for individual suffering from alcohol-use disorders. Four pharmacological approaches are currently approved by the FDA, but the risk of relapse remains very high. Our research contributes to better understanding the biological mechanisms underlying addictive disorders and helps the development of novel therapeutic approaches. 

Our research contributes to better understanding the biological mechanisms underlying addictive disorders and helps the development of novel therapeutic approaches.