Laboratory models of alcoholism: treatment target identification and insight into mechanisms


Laboratory models, including animal tissues and live animals, have proven useful for discovery of molecular targets of alcohol action as well as for characterization of genetic and environmental factors that influence alcohol's neural actions. Here we consider strengths and weaknesses of laboratory models used in alcohol research and analyze the limitations of using animals to model a complex human disease. We describe targets for the neural actions of alcohol, and we review studies in which animal models were used to examine excessive alcohol drinking and to discover genes that may contribute to risk for alcoholism. Despite some limitations of the laboratory models used in alcohol research, these experimental approaches are likely to contribute to the development of new therapies for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

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Figure 1: Use of animals to identify direct and indirect alcohol targets can lead to development of pharmacotherapies for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Figure 2: Complexity of gene-environment-behavioral interactions in the neural actions of alcohol.

Ann Thomson


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The authors are supported by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (J.C.C.), and the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (AA10760, AA12714 and AA13519 to J.C.C) and the Division of Intramural Clinical and Basic Research (D.M.L.). We thank M. Rutledge-Gorman for help in preparing the manuscript, and G. McClearn for many previous versions of Figure 2.

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Lovinger, D., Crabbe, J. Laboratory models of alcoholism: treatment target identification and insight into mechanisms. Nat Neurosci 8, 1471–1480 (2005).

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