Acamprosate is approved for the treatment of alcoholism, but its mechanism of action remains unclear. Results of animal studies suggest that a persistent hyperglutamatergic state contributes to the pathogenesis of alcoholism and that acamprosate may exert its actions by intervening in this process. Human translation of these findings is lacking.
To examine whether acamprosate modulates indices of central glutamate levels in recently abstinent alcohol-dependent patients as measured using proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS).
A 4-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized controlled experimental medicine study, with 1H-MRS measures obtained on days 4 and 25.
An inpatient research unit at the NIH Clinical Center.
Thirty-three patients who met the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence and who were admitted for medically supervised withdrawal from ongoing alcohol use.
Four weeks of acamprosate (initial oral loading followed by 1998 mg daily) or matched placebo, initiated at the time of admission.
Main Outcome Measures
The glutamate to creatine ratio as determined using single-voxel 1H-MRS in the anterior cingulate. Exploratory neuroendocrine, biochemical, and behavioral outcomes were also collected, as were safety- and tolerability-related measures.
There was a highly significant suppression of the glutamate to creatine ratio across time by acamprosate (time × treatment interaction: F1,29 = 13.5, P < .001). Cerebrospinal fluid levels of glutamate obtained in a subset of patients 4 weeks into abstinence were uncorrelated with the MRS measures and unaffected by treatment but were strongly correlated (R2 = 0.48, P < .001) with alcohol dependence severity. Other exploratory outcomes, including repeated dexamethasone–corticotropin-releasing hormone tests, and psychiatric ratings were unaffected. Among tolerability measures, gastrointestinal symptoms were significantly greater in acamprosate-treated individuals, in agreement with the established profile of acamprosate.
The MRS measures of central glutamate are reduced across time when acamprosate therapy is initiated at the onset of alcohol abstinence.
clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00106106