Unable to overcome the gauntlet of cravings and withdrawal, alcohol abusers often succumb to relapse. However, a recent article in Nature Neuroscience describes a potential avenue of treatment that may aid with recovery. According to Barak et al., the tastes and smells associated with alcohol cue memories that evoke cravings, and thus spur relapse. Using alcohol dependent rats, Barak et al. found that by inhibiting a memory related pathway, they were able to mitigate cravings for alcohol in the rats. In the study, the researchers first identified the activation of the mTORC1 neural pathway as part of the memory reconsolidation process, and subsequently hypothesized that inhibiting this pathway could disrupt alcohol related memories and ultimately suppress relapse. As predicted, Barak and his team found that the mTORC1 inhibitor, rapamycin, effectively suppressed relapse in alcohol dependent rats that had been prompted with alcohol related taste and smell cues. This finding–that disruption of a neural pathway related to memory consolidation can lead to clinical benefits–has implications for the treatment of alcohol and substance abuse, as well as for clinical conditions involving recurrent memories, such as PTSD.
- Barak, S., Liu, F., Hamida, S. B., Yowell, Q. V., Neasta, J., Kharazia, V., … & Ron, D. (2013). Disruption of alcohol-related memories by mTORC1 inhibition prevents relapse. Nature Neuroscience, 16, 1111–1117.