Blocking a specific protein- the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) - can disrupt alcohol-associated memories and suppress relapse behavior in an animal model of drug abuse, reports a paper published this week in Nature Neuroscience. The research suggests a potential therapeutic target for preventing substance abuse relapse in human subjects.
Just being exposed to cues that have previously been associated with drugs can elicit a craving for the drug, and increases the likelihood of relapse. Dorit Ron and colleagues found that exposure to the odor and taste of alcohol (but no actual alcohol) increased the amount that rats were willing to work to get alcohol and also activated the protein mTORC1 in several brain areas. When the authors blocked mTORC1 activation right after exposure to the alcohol cues, they suppressed the relapse behavior.
mTORC1 has also been implicated in the strengthening of spatial recognition and fear memories by re-activation, suggesting that mTORC1 may play a general role in the reconsolidation of memories.