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Baclofen in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder

Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00664

Using baclofen to explore GABA-B receptor function in alcohol dependence: insights from pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic measures.

  • 1Imperial College London, United Kingdom
  • 2University of Auckland, New Zealand

Background. The role of GABA-B neurotransmission in addiction has recently received increased attention, with clinical trials indicating that baclofen, a GABA-B receptor agonist, may reduce alcohol consumption, craving and promote abstinence. However, the optimal dose to treat alcohol dependence is unclear with patients requesting and tolerating much higher doses of baclofen, compared with other clinical uses. We assessed the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) of baclofen to provide insight into GABA-B sensitivity in this patient group, relative to controls.

Methods. Male healthy volunteers (controls, n=12) and abstinent alcohol dependent individuals (AD, n=8) received single oral doses of baclofen or placebo in 3-way crossover design. Controls received placebo/10mg/60mg baclofen in a randomised, double-blind design, AD received placebo/60mg/90mg baclofen in a single-blind design. PK/PD measures were recorded at baseline and multiple time-points up to 6 hours post-dosing, including plasma baclofen, plasma growth hormone (GH), Subjective High Assessment Scale (SHAS) and biphasic alcohol effects scale (BAES). Repeated measures ANOVA analysis explored ‘change from baseline’ dose, time, group and interaction effects, t-tests compared peak effects.

Results. Dose-dependent effects of baclofen on PK and PD measures were observed in both control and AD groups. Whilst there were no significant group differences in any baclofen PK parameters (T1/2, Tmax, Cmax, AUC), marked differences in PD effects were clearly evident. In controls, 60mg baclofen significantly increased total SHAS and BAES scores, and significantly increased plasma GH levels compared with placebo, with peak effects at 60 to 120mins, in line with its PK profile. In AD, 60mg baclofen had limited effects on these parameters; SHAS scores, BAES scores and plasma GH levels were significantly blunted compared with controls (significant group*time interactions P=0.0014, 0.0015 and P<0.0001 respectively).

Conclusions. Our study shows blunted sensitivity to baclofen in AD relative to controls, with no difference in PK suggesting a lower GABA-B receptor sensitivity. This may explain why higher baclofen doses are requested and tolerated in the treatment of alcohol dependence. Our data has implications for choice of dose in future clinical trials in AD and possibly other substances of dependence.

Keywords: Baclofen (PubChem CID: 2284), Addiction, Alcohol dependence (AD), Pharmacodynamic (PD), Pharmacokinetic (PK), Alcohol use disorder (AUD), GABA-B receptor, EEG, Growth Hormone

Received: 21 Jun 2018; Accepted: 19 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Mathis Heydtmann, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Oussama KEBIR, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), France
Nicolas Simon, Faculté de Médecine, Aix Marseille Université, France  

Copyright: © 2018 Durant, Paterson, Turton, Wilson, Myers, Muthukumaraswamy, Venkataraman, Mick, Paterson, Jones, Nahar, Cordero, Nutt and Lingford-Hughes. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Anne Lingford-Hughes, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom,