While people realize that alcohol can make them think ‘fuzzy,’ and by drinking enough alcohol, you can get drunk, exactly what happens in the brain cells? How does alcohol impact the brain and are there other effects on the brain? Researchers set out to answer this question.
In a recent press release, researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City released details of their findings. Based on the principle that you need to understand the molecular activity of the genes that are impacted by alcohol before you can understand the biological affects of alcohol, researchers moved forward with their studies.
Armed with this additional information, researchers believe that they are in a position to conduct further research that may shed some light on how alcohol can cause both good, and bad, effects.
Excessive amounts of alcohol can often cause brain and liver damage. Yet, the consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol can actually be beneficial for many people. Researchers cited the fact that a glass of red wine can actually help improve someone’s cardiovascular health.
Researchers determined that alcohol stimulates a certain process within our brain cells. It works similar to a domino effect – alcohol stimulates a biochemical that is named the heat shock pathway. This pathway forces another molecule to become active, the HSF1 (heat shock factor 1).
It is this molecule moves into the nucleus of the neuron and stimulates the genes that alcohol impacts. While researchers had known that our genes are affected, this research provided more information regarding how the HSF1 molecule is called into action by alcohol.
Additionally, another gene, the Gabra4, has also been implicated as an important receptor for another neurotransmitter (GABA) that is impacted by alcohol consumption.
Researchers were able to determine that alcohol impacted part of the DNA that, in turn, triggered the HSF1. They also determined that this same process occurred, and the same piece of DNA existed in the Gabra4 gene of both humans and mice.
Further, researchers determined that these were not the only two genes that were impacted by alcohol. Their research revealed that many other genes were also impacted.
These genes all appear to be related to activity in the heat shock pathways, which may account for the many variations that alcohol produces. They theorize that particular amounts of alcohol cause the heat shock pathway to actually repair the damage that is caused when proteins are process the wrong way. This is an example of the beneficial effect of alcohol.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Reader’s Digest Foundation provided funding for this research study. It has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.