Targeting muscarinic receptors for the treatment of alcohol use disorders: Opportunities and hurdles for clinical development

Leigh C. Walker, Kade L. Huckstep, Howard C. Becker, Christopher J. Langmead, Andrew J. Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Emerging evidence suggests muscarinic acetylcholine receptors represent novel targets to treat alcohol use disorder. In this review, we draw from literature across medicinal chemistry, molecular biology, addiction and learning/cognition fields to interrogate the proposition for muscarinic receptor ligands in treating various aspects of alcohol use disorder, including cognitive dysfunction, motivation to consume alcohol and relapse. In support of this proposition, we describe cholinergic dysfunction in the pathophysiology of alcohol use disorder at a network level, including alcohol-induced adaptations present in both human post-mortem brains and reverse-translated rodent models. Preclinical behavioural pharmacology implicates specific muscarinic receptors, in particular, M4 and M5 receptors, as potential therapeutic targets worthy of further interrogation. We detail how these receptors can be selectively targeted in vivo by the use of subtype-selective allosteric modulators, a strategy that overcomes the issue of targeting a highly conserved orthosteric site bound by acetylcholine. Finally, we highlight the intense pharma interest in allosteric modulators of muscarinic receptors for other indications that provide an opportunity for repurposing into the alcohol use disorder space and provide some currently unanswered questions as a roadmap for future investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Journal of Pharmacology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • acetylcholine
  • alcohol use disorder
  • allosteric
  • GPCR
  • muscarinic

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