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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How alcohol can damage neurons on the molecular level and alter protein production

Alcoholism is destructive on many levels, but scientists have now shown how alcohol can damage neurons on the molecular level and alter protein production. Researchers at the University of Basque Country and the University of Nottingham compared postmortem brain samples from alcoholics and healthy controls. The scientists report in PLoS ONE that the alcoholic brains produced significantly fewer proteins overall (pictured: protein levels in alcoholic brains are the A columns, and control brains are C columns). They also showed abnormalities in the in the α- and β-tubulin and the β II spectrin proteins and alterations to the cytoskeleton of neurons. The researchers focused on damage in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for planning, attention, and behavioral control, and say these results may help explain why it's so hard for alcoholics to quit drinking. The researchers intend to study other parts of the brain for similar changes and determine if and how prolonged, excessive alcohol exposure can cause these alterations.