In humans, these brain regions are critically important for processing speech, sensory information, and motor signals, and for forming long-term memories. So this research helps explain why alcohol damage can be so widespread and detrimental.
“The fact that only mice that lacked dopamine D2 receptors experienced brain damage in this study suggests that DRD2 may be protective against brain atrophy from chronic alcohol exposure,” Thanos said. “Conversely, the findings imply that lower-than-normal levels of DRD2 may make individuals more vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol.”
That would in effect deal people with low DRD2 levels a double whammy of alcohol vulnerability: Previous studies conducted by Thanos and collaborators suggest that individuals with low DRD2 levels may be more susceptible to alcohol’s addictive effects.
“The increased addictive liability and the potentially devastating increased susceptibility to alcohol toxicity resulting from low DRD2 levels make it clear that the dopamine system is an important target for further research in the search for better understanding and treatment of alcoholism,” Thanos said.
This research was supported by NIAAA.