One dose of alcohol is enough to change the brain

Credit: CC0 Public Domain.

Scientists from the University of Cologne found that even a single administration of alcohol permanently alters the brain.

In particular, the structure of the synapses as well as the dynamics of mitochondria are influenced by alcohol.

These results suggest that even a single consumption event can lay the foundation for alcohol addiction.

Which changes in the brain accompany the transition from sporadic drinking to chronic alcohol abuse?

Most scientific research has examined the effects of chronic alcohol consumption on the hippocampus—the control center of our brain.

Because of this, little is known about the acute neuronal interactions of critical risk factors, such as a first alcohol intoxication at an early age.

In the study, the team provides the basis for permanent cellular changes following a single acute ethanol intoxication.

The effects of a single alcohol administration were examined at the molecular, cellular, and behavioral levels.

The working hypothesis was that, similar to the formation of memory after a single lesson, a single administration of ethanol would form a positive association with alcohol.

The team tested its hypothesis using research in fruit flies and mouse models and found ethanol-induced changes in two areas: mitochondrial dynamics and the balance between synapses in neurons.

Mitochondria supply cells and especially nerve cells with energy. In order to optimally deliver the energy to the cells, the mitochondria move.

The movement of the mitochondria was disturbed in the cells treated with ethanol. The chemical balance between certain synapses was also disturbed.

These changes remained permanent and were confirmed by behavioral changes in the animals: Mice and fruit flies showed increased alcohol consumption and alcohol relapse later in life.

The morphological remodeling of neurons is a well-known basis for learning and memory.

The researchers speculate that these ethanol-dependent cellular changes are critical for the development of addictive behaviors.

The study is an important first step in understanding how single drinking can turn into chronic alcohol abuse.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about a new drug to protect against cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s, and blueberries could improve your cognitive function.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that vitamin C may help treat cognitive impairment, and results showing common drugs for anxiety and sleep problems may harm cognitive functions.

The research was published in PNAS and conducted by Professor Dr. Henrike Scholz et al.

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