Chronic alcohol use linked to changes in the brain

Alcohol intake
Chronic alcohol use affects brain Source: kaicho20 (via Pixabay)
A study by a research team shows the effect chronic alcohol intake has on the amygdala of the brain and its immune environment.

By Mili Jayadeep | Science Editor

The amygdala is a small brain region that is involved in displaying emotions, behaviours and motivation. Chronic alcohol use affects the amygdala, altering its function. A new study shows that an overuse of alcohol results in changes in the pathways associated with inflammation that ultimately drives alcohol addiction.

The study, conducted by Marisa Roberto, a Professor in Scripps Research’s Department of Molecular Medicine and her team, was published in the journal: Progress in Neurobiology.

Reesha Patel, a postdoctoral fellow in Roberto’s lab and first author of the study says,

“We found that chronic alcohol exposure compromises brain immune cells, which are important for maintaining healthy neurons. The resulting damage fuels anxiety and alcohol drinking that may lead to alcohol use disorder.” 

The study focused on a protein known as interleukin-10 or IL-10, which is found in the brain. IL-10 is responsible for ensuring proper functioning of the immune system. Its anti-inflammatory ability helps fight against foreign invaders. The mice that were associated with chronic alcohol intake showed IL-10 was reduced in the amygdala. This subsequently led to improper neuronal function and acted as a driver for increasing alcohol intake. The scientists theorised that increasing IL-10 could help reverse these effects. Their results showed that doing so reduced their tendency to drink alcohol. Roberto explains,

“We’ve shown that inflammatory immune responses in the brain are very much at play in the development and maintenance of alcohol use disorder. But perhaps more importantly, we provided a new framework for therapeutic intervention, pointing to anti-inflammatory mechanisms.” 

Roberto, the team and collaborating researchers including Silke Pauste, an associate Professor at the Department of Immunology and Microbiology, revealed findings showing that precise immune cells are influenced by frequent, long-term alcohol use. The results overall showed that the changes such as reduced IL-10 and decreased signalling were reflective of the immune changes in the brain induced by alcohol use.

This study has helped uncover more information about the brain and how alcohol affects the structure and functioning of the brain. Further research is required to understand the exact role of IL-10 signalling in the amygdala and addiction-associated brain networks in its influence on behaviour.

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