Alcoholism is a chronic disorder characterized by cycling periods of excessive ethanol consumption, withdrawal, abstinence and relapse, which is associated with progressive changes in central corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) receptor signaling. CRF and urocortin peptides act by binding to the CRF type 1 (CRF1R) or the CRF type 2 (CRF2R) receptors, both of which have been implicated in the regulation of neurobiological responses to ethanol. The current review provides a comprehensive overview of preclinical evidence from studies involving rodents that when viewed together, suggest a promising role for CRFR antagonists in the treatment of alcohol abuse disorders. CRFR antagonists protect against excessive ethanol intake resulting from ethanol dependence without influencing ethanol intake in non-dependent animals. Similarly, CRFR antagonists block excessive binge-like ethanol drinking in non-dependent mice but do not alter ethanol intake in mice drinking moderate amounts of ethanol. CRFR antagonists also protect against increased ethanol intake and relapse-like behaviors precipitated by exposure to a stressful event. Additionally, CRFR antagonists attenuate the negative emotional responses associated with ethanol withdrawal. The protective effects of CRFR antagonists are modulated by CRF1R. Finally, recent evidence has emerged suggesting that CRF2R agonists may also be useful for treating alcohol abuse disorders.
Keywords: Corticotropin-releasing factor, urocortin, corticotropin receptor, alcoholism, dependence, withdrawal, relapse, ethanol
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