A Hormone Injection Could Stop Excessive Drinking

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If you give a mouse a cookie, legend has it that a cascade of desires from the mouse will follow. But if you give the mouse a shot of a hormone, new research suggests it will fare better than its peers after a long night of binge drinking.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center recently reported this finding in a new paper published in Cell Metabolism on March 7, which shows their new hormone injection strategy could eventually help counteract two unpleasant (and dangerous) symptoms of alcohol poisoning: loss of consciousness and impaired mobility.

“We’ve discovered that the liver is not only involved in metabolizing alcohol but that it also sends a hormonal signal to the brain to protect against the harmful effects of intoxication, including both loss of consciousness and coordination,” Steven Kliewer, a molecular biologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center who led the research, said in a press release.

This hormone, called FGF21, has previously been shown to rise following alcohol consumption. Higher levels of the hormone seem to lead to a reduction in alcohol intake, suggesting that the hormone may increase to discourage excessive drinking. Based on these findings, scientists have suggested using the hormone to treat alcohol use disorder.

In the new study, researchers looked at how FGF21 influenced the effects of alcohol consumption on mice. First, they engineered mice that lacked FGF21 and tube-fed them ethanol, finding that they took significantly longer than mice that produced the hormone to regain the ability to right themselves. These mice were less able to stay atop a spinning rotarod—the mouse equivalent of a field sobriety test, gauging their balance—than mice that naturally produced FGF21.

Next, the researchers injected additional FGF21 into normal mice an hour after they had been tube-fed with ethanol. These mice were able to right themselves faster and stay atop the rotarod longer than both the hormone-less and normal mice. Interestingly, this technique only seemed to work on drunk mice: When given ketamine, diazepam, or pentobarbital, extra FGF21 had no significant effect on mice’s ability to regain their balance.

It’s not exactly clear why this is the case, though the researchers speculate in the paper that FGF21 may only help the liver metabolize alcohol, not other drugs. Next, they hope to study the pathways in the brain that seem to give the hormone its “sobering effect,” Kliewer said.

Still, you never know: If you give a mouse a sobriety shot, it might ask for more.

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