Effect of acamprosate on magnetic resonance spectroscopy measures of central glutamate in detoxified alcohol-dependent individuals: a randomized controlled experimental medicine study

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;67(10):1069-77. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.125.


Context: 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.

Objective: 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).

Design: A 4-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized controlled experimental medicine study, with ¹H-MRS measures obtained on days 4 and 25.

Setting: An inpatient research unit at the NIH Clinical Center. Patients Thirty-three patients who met the DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence and who were admitted for medically supervised withdrawal from ongoing alcohol use. Intervention 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusion: The MRS measures of central glutamate are reduced across time when acamprosate therapy is initiated at the onset of alcohol abstinence.

Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00106106.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Acamprosate
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Deterrents / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Deterrents / therapeutic use*
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology*
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation*
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / physiology
  • Creatine / metabolism
  • Dexamethasone
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / drug effects
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy*
  • Male
  • Taurine / adverse effects
  • Taurine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Taurine / therapeutic use


  • Alcohol Deterrents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Taurine
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Dexamethasone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Creatine
  • Acamprosate

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00106106