Summary

Alcohol addiction ranks among the primary global causes of preventable death and disabilities in human population, but treatment options are very limited. Rational strategies for design and development of novel, evidence based therapies for alcohol addiction are still missing.

Alcohol dependence is characterized by cycles of excessive alcohol consumption, interspersed with intervals of abstinence, and frequent relapses. Relapse is a key element of this disease process and blocking relapse is therefore a key objective for the treatment of alcohol dependent patients.

In this project we will provide a novel discovery strategy based on the principles of systems medicine that uses mathematical and network theoretical models to identify brain sites and functional networks that can be targeted specifically by therapeutic interventions. To build predictive models of the ‘relapse-prone’ state of brain networks we will use magnetic resonance imaging, electrophysiology and neurochemical data from patients and laboratory animals. The mathematical models will be rigorously tested through experimental procedures aimed to guide the network towards increased resilience against relapse. We expect to identify hubs that promote ‘relapse-proneness’ and to predict how aberrant network states could be normalized. Proof of concept experiments in animals will need to demonstrate this possibility by showing directed remodeling of functional brain networks by targeted interventions suggested by the theoretical models. Thus, our translational goal will be achieved by a theoretical and experimental framework for making predictions based on fMRI and mathematical modeling, which is verified in animals, and which can be transferred to humans.

With our highly interdisciplinary EU consortium (PIs from seven European countries and Israel with outstanding expertise) it is expected that after having such a world-wide unique effort in place, new neurobiologically-defined treatment strategies will be delivered to our addicted patients and thus help to address a serious and widespread health problem in our European societies.