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Blood Pressure Drug Could Help Problem Drinkers, Research Shows

Study involving mice shows that a drug used to treat high blood pressure may alleviate anxiety induced by long-term heavy alcohol use

by Queensland University of Technology
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Researcher Dr Omkar Patkar and colleaguesResearcher Dr. Omkar Patkar and colleagues.Credit: QUT

Key study findings: 

  • Pindolol reduced the anxiety-like behavior of mice when alcohol was withdrawn after 12 weeks of binge-like consumption
  • Two weeks of daily pindolol treatment at the end of 18 weeks' alcohol consumption restored damage the alcohol caused to new and immature neurons (cells) in the hippocampus, the primary brain site for new neuron production
  • The drug acts on the receptors for serotonin, the 'feel-good' nerve cell chemical and neurotransmitter, and noradrenaline, which is involved in the body's 'fight or flight' response

A drug used to treat high blood pressure may alleviate anxiety induced by long-term heavy alcohol use, and also halt the damage such drinking can cause to the brain's ability to grow new cells, research at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) shows.

The findings, from a study conducted in adult mice, have been published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

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Principal investigator and QUT neuroscientist, professor Selena Bartlett, said the results add further evidence that the drug, pindolol, could be beneficial in treating alcohol use disorders.

Related Infographic: Biomarkers of Alcohol Abuse

"This is a drug that is inexpensive and already available in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia," she said. "It's a beta-blocker that is prescribed for high blood pressure, angina, and heart arrhythmias.

We have been studying it for a number of years and have already shown in animal models that it reduces alcohol intake when there is long-term consumption.

In this latest study, we investigated the drug's effect on other alcohol associated issues—anxiety and neurogenesis.

Long-term and heavy drinking can cause anxiety disorders, and people's anxiety can worsen when alcohol is withdrawn, and alcohol abuse can also reduce neurogenesis, which is the process by which new neurons (cells) are formed in the brain.

QUT ResearchersQUT researchers have been studying the blood pressure drug pindolol as a possible future treatment for alcohol use disorders. From left, PhD student Kate Beecher, Dr. Omkar Patkar, professor Selena Bartlett, and Dr. Arnauld Belmer.Credit: QUT

We showed that pindolol reduced alcohol-associated anxiety-like behavior in mice and also alleviated the damaging effects of alcohol consumption on newly formed and immature brain cells."

Professor Bartlett said repurposing drugs like pindolol was a way to fast-track new treatments to manage alcohol dependence, binge-drinking, and addiction, which are significant and complex problems both in Australia and globally. The costs to society of alcohol-related problems in Australia in 2010 was estimated at more than $14 billion, including costs to the health system and lost productivity.

"The next step is to conduct clinical trials with pindolol and we have started discussions with a medical specialist to progress that," Bartlett said.

Co-investigators with Bartlett in the study are QUT postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Arnauld Belmer, Dr. Omkar Patkar (previously a QUT research fellow), QUT PhD researcher Kate Beecher, and Dr. Angela Jacques, who recently completed her PhD.