Your immune system may facilitate alcohol addiction

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In a new study, researchers found the activation of the immune system could eventually perpetuate some of the bad effects of alcohol, like an addiction.

They found that alcohol may increase its addictive capacity by changing the geometry of the brain, specifically the gray matter.

The research was conducted by a team at the Institute of Neurosciences in Alicante (Spain) and elsewhere.

According to their observations, the cells of the immune system that reside in the brain, called microglia, are responsible for the change in geometry that the gray substance undergoes in the presence of alcohol.

Alcohol, as a harmful substance, causes the activation of these defense cells, which leads to a change in their biochemical characteristics and in their shape, which changes from being branched to a more rounded or amoeboid shape.

This change in shape alters the geometry of the extracellular space, allowing a greater diffusion of substances that would be limited in the absence of alcohol.

One of these substances is dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is particularly important in the processes of reward and addiction.

Increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, glutamate or neuropeptides can turn the weak rewarding properties of alcohol into the formation of drinking habits that eventually addiction in some people.

Understanding and reversing these changes can help in the development of more effective treatments.

This study shows that there is a higher average diffusivity in the cerebral gray matter of humans and rats that drink regularly.

These alterations appear shortly after the onset of alcohol consumption in rats, persist in early abstinence in both rodents and humans, and are associated with a strong decrease in extracellular space barriers explained by a reaction of the microglia to an aggressor such as alcohol.

In a previous paper, this same group showed that alcohol continues to damage the brain even after stopping drinking.

That work already reflected an increase in diffusivity in the brain due to alcohol, but the researchers did not yet know why.

One author of the study is Dr. Santiago Canals.

The study is published in Science Advances.

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