Hypothalamic neuropeptide signaling in alcohol addiction

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The hypothalamus is now known to regulate alcohol intake in addition to its established role in food intake, in part through neuromodulatory neurochemicals termed neuropeptides. Certain orexigenic neuropeptides act in the hypothalamus to promote alcohol drinking, although they affect different aspects of the drinking response. These neuropeptides, which include galanin, the endogenous opioid enkephalin, and orexin/hypocretin, appear to stimulate alcohol intake not only through mechanisms that promote food intake but also by enhancing reward and reinforcement from alcohol. Moreover, these neuropeptides participate in a positive feedback relationship with alcohol, whereby they are upregulated by alcohol intake to promote even further consumption. They contrast with other orexigenic neuropeptides, such as melanin-concentrating hormone and neuropeptide Y, which promote alcohol intake under limited circumstances, are not consistently stimulated by alcohol, and do not enhance reward. They also contrast with neuropeptides that can be anorexigenic, including the endogenous opioid dynorphin, corticotropin-releasing factor, and melanocortins, which act in the hypothalamus to inhibit alcohol drinking as well as reward and therefore counter the ingestive drive promoted by orexigenic neuropeptides. Thus, while multiple hypothalamic neuropeptides may work together to regulate different aspects of the alcohol drinking response, excessive signaling from orexigenic neuropeptides or inadequate signaling from anorexigenic neuropeptides can therefore allow alcohol drinking to become dysregulated.

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