'Hangover' Molecule in Brain Found

Scientists have discovered the molecule in the brain that leads to hangovers. The neuropeptide, a brain-signalling molecule, is believed to cause the body to experience withdrawal symptoms as the brain tries to adapt to different intoxication levels.

The neuroscientists from the University of Southampton's School of Biological Sciences studied the simple brains of C. elegans worms, which have a makeup similar enough to the human brain when intoxicated or dependent on alcohol.

What they found was striking.

Basically, when a worm brain (similarly, a human brain) is exposed to drinking over a long period of time, it becomes accustomed to certain intoxication levels. The brain experiences a series of withdrawal symptoms when the drinking stops.

Typically, these hangover symptoms can include anxiety and agitation, even seizures.

"This research showed the worms displaying effects of the withdrawal of alcohol and enables us to define how alcohol affects signalling in nerve circuits which leads to changes in behavior," said professor Lindy Holden-Dye, a neuroscientist of the University's School of Biological Sciences and member of Southampton Neurosciences Group (SoNG), who led the study.

When the worms were given small doses of alcohol during their withdrawal their irritable behaviors eased. Unfortunately, this approach to combating a hangover also increases the chances for alcohol dependency.

Alcohol dependency and abuse are among the most common mental disorders. This study, published in PLoS One journal, showed hope for an average 13 percent of the adult population that suffers from these disorders.

This study identifies where and also how alcohol consumption affect the nervous system and the brain in a way that hasn’t been revealed until now.

"This is leading to new ideas for the treatment of alcoholism," Holden-Dye said. "Our study provides a very effective experimental system to tackle this problem."

Associate News Editor