Drunk in love: Rats recover when given oxytocin

23rd February 2015, Comments 0 comments

The love hormone, known formally as Oxytocin, may have another unexpected effect. When tested on intoxicated lab rats, it helped them act as if they were sober, international researchers said Monday.

The tests have only been done in lab rats so far, but those injected with oxytocin and fed alcohol seemed able to overcome the failures in motor coordination that the drunken rats suffered.

A lab video posted online showed an inebriated rat stumbling to the corner of its cage and staying there, while on either side, a rat that was not given alcohol frolicked eagerly and a rat that was given alcohol and oxytocin darted around its enclosure with similar speed and energy.

"In the rat equivalent of a sobriety test, the rats given alcohol and oxytocin passed with flying colors, while those given alcohol without oxytocin were seriously impaired," said lead author Michael Bowen of the University of Sydney.

The oxytocin "prevented alcohol from accessing specific sites in the brain that cause alcohol's intoxicating effects, sites known as delta-subunit GABA-A receptors," said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

"Alcohol impairs your coordination by inhibiting the activity of brain regions that provide fine motor control. Oxytocin prevents this effect to the point where we can't tell from their behavior that the rats are actually drunk. It's a truly remarkable effect," Bowen said.

Oxytocin is known for its role in promoting bonding and sexual attraction. It is often administered to pregnant women to boost contractions before childbirth.

Researchers said they want to see how the hormone affects inebriated humans next.

"The first step will be to ensure we have a method of drug delivery for humans that allows sufficient amounts of oxytocin to reach the brain. If we can do that, we suspect that oxytocin could also leave speech and cognition much less impaired after relatively high levels of alcohol consumption," Bowen said.

Getting a dose of oxytocin would not help get the alcohol out of your bloodstream any faster, researchers cautioned.

But previous studies have shown oxytocin could reduce craving for alcohol and total alcohol consumption in both rats and humans, so scientists hope someday their work may lead to new treatments for alcoholism.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia and the University of Regensburg in Germany.


© 2015 AFP

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