Study Shows Promise of Gene Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder

Already used to treat Parkinson’s disease, OHSU researchers found surgical treatment dramatically reduced chronic heavy drinking

August 14, 2023 | Source: OHSU | by Erik Robinson

A form of gene therapy currently used to treat Parkinson’s disease may dramatically reduce alcohol use among chronic heavy drinkers, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University and institutions across the country have found.

The study in nonhuman primates showed that implanting a specific type of molecule that induces cell growth effectively resets the brain’s dopamine reward pathway in animals predisposed to heavy drinking. The gene therapy procedure involves brain surgery, and may be useful in the most severe cases of alcohol use disorder.

“This was incredibly effective,” said co-senior author Kathleen Grant, Ph.D., professor and chief of the Division of Neuroscience at OHSU’s Oregon Primate National Research Center, or ONPRC.

The implanted virus is not harmful and carries a gene that codes for the protein known as glial-derived neurotrophic factor, or GDNF. It was injected in a specific area of the brain of a group of rhesus macaque monkeys that voluntarily and heavily drink ethanol diluted in water.