New study suggests brain chemical makes alcohol taste bitter to women

Alcohol has a bitter underlying taste that is manipulated by a chemical in the brain for women. (Image by Inga Seliverstova via Pexels)
Alcohol has a bitter underlying taste that is manipulated by a chemical in the brain for women. (Image by Inga Seliverstova via Pexels)

The discovery of a brain chemical by researchers, that apparently made alcohol taste bitter to women is making great attempts at distinguishing drinking habits between the genders. The finding seems quite promising in paving the way for cutting-edge treatments involving alcoholism in women.

Since alcohol contributes to around three million deaths each year, such studies will stand to be a beacon in the direction of solving issues with alcohol disorders and poisoning. The need for such studies has gone up, given the fact that the last 20 years have seen increasingly risky behavior involving alcohol, in women. Instances of these include binge drinking and over-dependency on alcohol.

Although the testing has been carried out on mice, researchers are hopeful about coming up with something substantial. The test also strongly identifies the tendencies and patterns of heavy drinking between men and women with context to the presence or absence of this chemical.


Chemical in the brain alters the taste of alcohol in women

The chemical CART in the brain can change the taste of alcohol for women. (Image by Cottonbro Studio via Pexels)
The chemical CART in the brain can change the taste of alcohol for women. (Image by Cottonbro Studio via Pexels)

The chemical that has garnered much talk regarding understanding drinking patterns in males and females has been simply called CART by researchers. This is because, on the molecular level, it is known as the neuropeptide protein Cocaine and Amphetamine-Regulated Transcript (CART).

The chemical is found to be responsible for bringing changes to a wide range of pathopsychological and physiological functions. These include depression, anxiety, energy balance, and behaviors related to the reward center of the brain when it comes to alcohol dependency.

The study was published in the Neuropsychopharmacology journal by researchers from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia.

According to the corresponding author of the study, Dr. Leigh Walker, they were able to identify the presence of a chemical in the brain of females that made alcohol taste bitter unless the drink was sweetened. The finding established an important role of the taste of alcohol in the context of alcohol preference, a factor that is often overlooked.


The study was first carried out on laboratory mice and had shown interesting results

The test was carried out on the brains of mice that showed intriguing results. (Image via Pexels)
The test was carried out on the brains of mice that showed intriguing results. (Image via Pexels)

The study was first tried on male and female mice from whom the CART gene was taken out. These animals were trained to ingest high levels of ethanol, after which they were provided with continuous access to a bottle of ethanol and another containing water for approximately 10 weeks.

The intake of these substances by the animals was measured daily till a point where the bottles of ethanol were supplemented with sucrose.

Since alcohol had a bitter underlying taste, the test was carried out to specify the role of taste in relation to CART. According to Dr. Walker, when the chemical was introduced to male mice, they drank more. The same chemical when taken out of the female mice made them drink less.

However, when the alcohol was sweetened, the consumption of it by the female mice went up. From this, the researchers were able to draw the inference that without CART, alcohol seemed to be unpalatable to females.

The researchers, by this trial, have discovered that these differences in the pattern of alcohol drinking between male and female mice were not owing to the fluctuating levels of sex hormones. These behaviors were in fact linked to a section of the brain known as the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA).

This is the part where CART influences the regulation of alcohol consumption. In those mice where the CeA CART had been neutralized, they consumed more sweetened alcohol.


Such a pathbreaking discovery has made the researchers hopeful for curating a novel solution that will have CART mediating alcohol intake by changing the sensitivity of bitter taste.

"If we can find a way in future to target the CART neuropeptide system, we may be able to create treatments to help women curb excessive alcohol use," Dr. Walker said.

Moreover, if the team is able to find the difference in mechanism between the male and female brains, it can open limitless opportunities to treat alcohol-related disorders in women.

Edited by Ankush Das
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