A recent NIAAA study determined the expression profile of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) of rats treated with alcohol. MicroRNAs are non-coding RNA molecules thought to play a key role in and the regulation of gene expression. The study results suggest that multiple miRNAs were aberrantly expressed in rat NAc after alcohol injection. Among them, miR-382 was down-regulated in alcohol-treated rats.

In both cultured neuronal cells in vitro and in the NAc in vivo, researchers identified that the dopamine receptor D1 (Drd1) is a direct target gene of miR-382. Via this target gene, miR-382 strongly modulated the expression of DeltaFosB. Moreover, overexpression of miR-382 significantly attenuated alcohol-induced up-regulation of DRD1 and DeltaFosB, decreased voluntary intake of and preference for alcohol and inhibited the DRD1-induced action potential responses. The results indicate that miRNAs are involved in and may represent novel therapeutic targets for alcoholism.