How alcohol consumption fuels chronic pain

Abstract concept of pain

Scripps Research scientists have discovered two distinct molecular mechanisms by which chronic alcohol consumption increases pain sensitivity. The findings, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, suggest potential drug targets for the treatment of alcohol-associated chronic pain and hypersensitivity.

A team from Scripps Research has shown how alcohol consumption and alcohol withdrawal can lead to increased pain and hypersensitivity.

Chronic alcohol consumption can make people more sensitive to pain through two different molecular mechanisms, one driven by alcohol consumption and the other by alcohol withdrawal. This is a new finding from scientists at Scripps Research on the complex links between alcohol and pain.

The research, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology on April 12, 2023, also suggests new potential drug targets for the treatment of alcohol-associated chronic pain and hypersensitivity.

“There is an urgent need to better understand the two-way street between chronic pain and alcohol dependence,” says lead author Marisa Roberto, PhD, Schimmel Family Chair in Molecular Medicine and professor of neuroscience. at Scripps Research. “Pain is both a common symptom in patients with alcohol dependence, as well as a reason why people are driven to drink again.”

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), which encompasses the conditions commonly referred to as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol dependence, affects 29.5 million people in the United States according to the 2021 national survey on drug use and health. Over time, AUD can trigger the development of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and certain cancers.

Among the many impacts of long-term alcohol use is pain: more than half of people with AUD experience persistent pain of one type or another. This includes alcoholic neuropathy, which is nerve damage that causes chronic pain and other symptoms. Studies have also shown that AUD is associated with changes in how the brain processes pain signals, as well as changes in how immune system activation occurs. In turn, this pain can lead to increased alcohol consumption. Additionally, during withdrawal, people with AUD may experience allodynia, in which a harmless stimulus is perceived as painful.

Roberto and his colleagues wanted to know the underlying causes of these different types of alcohol-related pain. In the new study, they compared three groups of adult mice: animals that were dependent on alcohol (heavy drinkers), animals that had limited access to alcohol and were not considered dependent (moderate drinkers ) and those who had never drunk alcohol.

In addicted mice, allodynia developed during alcohol withdrawal, and subsequent access to alcohol significantly reduced pain sensitivity. Separately, about half of the mice that were not alcohol dependent also showed signs of increased pain sensitivity during alcohol withdrawal but, unlike the dependent mice, this neuropathy was not reversed. by re-exposure to alcohol.

When Roberto’s group then measured inflammatory protein levels in the animals, they found that while inflammation pathways were elevated in dependent and non-dependent animals, specific molecules were only increased in dependent mice. . This indicates that different molecular mechanisms can lead to both types of pain. It also suggests which inflammatory proteins may be useful as drug targets for alcohol-related pain.

“These two types of pain vary widely, which is why it’s important to be able to tell them apart and develop different ways to treat each type,” says first author Vittoria Borgonetti, PhD, postdoctoral associate at Scripps Research.

Roberto’s group is continuing to study how these molecules could be used to diagnose or treat alcohol-related chronic pain.

“Our goal is to uncover potential new molecular targets that can be used to distinguish between these types of pain and potentially be used in the future for the development of therapies,” says co-lead author Nicoletta Galeotti, PhD, associate professor of preclinical pharmacology at the University of Florence.

Reference: “Chronic alcohol-induced mechanical allodynia by promoting neuroinflammation: a mouse model of alcohol-evoked neuropathic pain” by Vittoria Borgonetti, Amanda J. Roberts, Michal Bajo, Nicoletta Galeotti, and Marisa Roberto, April 12, 2023, British Journal of Pharmacology.
DOI: 10.1111/bph.16091

In addition to Roberto, study authors, “Chronic alcohol-induced mechanical allodynia by promoting neuroinflammation: a predictive mouse model of alcoholic neuropathy,” include Amanda Roberts, Michal Bajo, and Vittoria Borgonetti of Scripps Research ; and Nicoletta Galeotti from the University of Florence.

This work was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (The Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism Consortium AA013498, AA027700, AA021491, AA017447, AA006420, and AA029841), The Schimmel Family Chair, The Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research, and The Main animal model facility at the Scripps Research Institute.

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