Neurotoxicity Research

, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp 403–414 | Cite as

Role of GABAB receptor in alcohol dependence: Reducing effect of baclofen on alcohol intake and alcohol motivational properties in rats and amelioration of alcohol withdrawal syndrome and alcohol craving in human alcoholics

  • Giancarlo ColomboEmail author
  • Giovanni Addolorato
  • Roberta Agabio
  • Mauro A. M. Carai
  • Fabio Pibiri
  • Salvatore Serra
  • Giovanni Vacca
  • Gian Luigi Gessa


The present paper describes the results of recent preclinical and clinical studies conducted in this laboratory in order to characterize the anti-alcohol properties of the GABAB receptor agonist, baclofen. At a preclinical level, the repeated administration of non-sedative doses of baclofen dose-dependently suppressed the acquisition and maintenance of alcohol drinking behavior in selectively bred Sardinian alcohol-preferring (sP) rats tested under the homecage, 2-bottle “alcohol vs water” choice regimen. Acute injection of baclofen completely blocked the temporary increase in voluntary alcohol intake occurring after a period of alcohol abstinence (the so-called alcohol deprivation effect, which models alcohol relapses in human alcoholics). Acute treatment with baclofen also dose-dependently suppressed extinction responding for alcohol (an index of motivation to consume alcohol) in sP rats trained to lever-press for oral alcohol self-administration. Taken together, these results suggest the involvement of the GABAB receptor in the neural substrate mediating alcohol intake and alcohol motivational properties in an animal model of excessive alcohol consumption. Further, acutely administered baclofen dose-dependently reduced the severity of alcohol withdrawal signs in Wistar rats made physically dependent upon alcohol.

Preliminary clinical surveys suggest that the antialcohol properties of baclofen observed in rats may generalize to human alcoholics. Indeed, a doubleblind survey demonstrated that repeated daily treatment with baclofen was associated, when compared to placebo, with a higher percentage of subjects totally abstinent from alcohol and a higher number of days of total abstinence. Treatment with baclofen also suppressed the number of daily drinks and decreased the obsessive and compulsive components of alcohol craving. Finally, a single non-sedative dose of baclofen resulted in the rapid disappearance of alcohol withdrawal symptomatology, including delirium tremens, in alcohol-dependent patients. In both clinical studies, baclofen was well tolerated with minimal side effects. These results suggest that baclofen may represent a potentially effective medication in the treatment of alcohol-dependent patients.


Baclofen GABAB receptor Alcohol Alcoholics Alcoholism Sardinian alcohol-preferring (sP) rats 


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Copyright information

© FP Graham Publishing Co 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giancarlo Colombo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Giovanni Addolorato
    • 2
  • Roberta Agabio
    • 3
  • Mauro A. M. Carai
    • 3
  • Fabio Pibiri
    • 3
  • Salvatore Serra
    • 3
  • Giovanni Vacca
    • 3
  • Gian Luigi Gessa
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.C.N.R. Institute of Neuroscience Section of the University of CagliariCagliariItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Internal MedicineCatholic UniversityRomeItaly
  3. 3.Bernard B. Brodie Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of CagliariItaly

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