New Data on Alcohol’s Effect on the Brain

New Data on Alcohol’s Effect on the Brain

For some time, specialists in alcohol use disorder (AUD), frequently referred to as alcoholism, have puzzled over the role inflammation plays in the problem. Alcohol use disorder is characterized by uncontrolled drinking and binge drinking.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “alcohol-related inflammation causes brain damage: Even in the absence of specific neurological or hepatic complications, excessive drinking can lead to regional structural brain damage and cognitive dysfunction…”

For years, tests have shown that the molecule interleukin 1β (IL-1β) is found at higher levels in the brains of alcoholics. IL-1β, in some cases, triggers brain inflammation.

Importantly, it can cause inflammation in those areas of the brain tied to decision-making.

Scientists at Scripps Research have just published a paper in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity on the impact alcohol consumption has on mice brains[i].

When they looked at the brains of mice that had consumed moderate to no alcohol, they found relatively low levels of IL-1β. They also found that the IL-1β present in those brains had anti-inflammatory effects.

In mice who had consumed large amounts of alcohol, IL-1β levels were much higher and produced the opposite effect – causing inflammation in the brain and the production of brain chemicals associated with alcohol use disorder.

What do these findings mean for those suffering from AUD?

According to Marisa Roberto, Ph.D., the Schimmel Family Chair of Molecular Medicine and a professor of neuroscience at Scripps Research, “our findings are incredibly exciting because they suggest a potential way to treat alcohol use disorder with existing anti-inflammatory drugs targeting the IL-1β pathway.”

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