UCLA brain scientists crack mystery of how alcohol causes intoxication

Feb 07, 2005

Natural gene mutation heightens sensitivity, may offer new drug target

Alcohol interferes with how brain cells communicate with one another, coordination, grogginess, impaired memory and loss of inhibitions associated with drunkenness. Yet researchers have been unable to pinpoint how alcohol causes this disruption in the brain.

Now scientists at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA have deciphered how a naturally occurring gene mutation in rats' brains lowers the animals' tolerance to alcohol, leading to rapid and acute intoxication after the equivalent of one drink. The UCLA study is the first to identify how the gene variation alters GABA receptors -- specific sites targeted by chemicals from the brain cells -- making them more responsive to very low levels of alcohol. Alcohol enhances the GABA receptors' influence on brain cells, slowing the cells' activity and ability to communicate.

The fact that the gene mutation arises naturally suggests that tolerance levels to alcohol may be genetically wired in people, too. If so, the findings could eventually help identify children and adults at higher risk of developing alcohol dependency, so these individuals can make an informed decision about whether to drink. The study results may also speed the development of new drugs that target alcohol-sensitive GABA receptors, leading to better treatments for alcohol poisoning and addiction.

The Feb. 6 online edition of Nature Neuroscience reports the findings.

Source: University of California - Los Angeles

Explore further: Team discovers first evidence of milk consumption in ancient dental plaque

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Thanks, fruit flies, for that pleasing beer scent

Oct 09, 2014

The familiar smell of beer is due in part to aroma compounds produced by common brewer's yeast. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on October 9th have discovered why the ye ...

Recommended for you

Golden Ratio offers unity of science

4 hours ago

It is said to represent a "cosmic constant" found in the curvature of elephant tusks, the shape of a kudu's horn, the destructive beauty of Hurricane Katrina, and in the astronomical grandeur of how planets, ...

Consumer sentiment brightens holiday spending

6 hours ago

Consumer confidence posted its fourth consecutive monthly gain in November, rising to its highest level since July 2007, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.