The likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol varies widely from person to person, even when comparing people with similar health history. New research at UMass Amherst has uncovered a brain region that plays a role in determining how much alcohol a person is inclined to drink. This knowledge furthers our understanding of the brain mechanisms behind alcoholism, which could help to design future treatments.
In the experiment, rats who preferred alcohol had higher levels of brain activity in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) when they consumed it. The OFC is a brain region associated with impulsivity, reward, and decision-making. Meanwhile, rats who didn't like alcohol as much exhibited lower activity in the OFC.
These results suggest that neuronal activity in the brain's OFC can encode alcohol preferences. In turn, those preferences can influence drinking behavior.
This finding was published Monday in the journal eNeuro.
Study co-author David Moorman is a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He tells Inverse that certain systems in the brain, like the OFC, become "differentially engaged depending on how much or little one likes alcohol."
Although the study was conducted in rats, the findings may lead to major breakthroughs in treating alcohol use disorder (AUD) in humans, Moorman says.
"There are, of course, lots of reasons why people drink different amounts of alcohol," Moorman explains. "But if this preference is somehow encoded in the OFC, we might be able to use OFC activation as a biomarker for the potential of an individual to develop alcohol use disorder (AUD)."