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: Changing dinosaur tracks spurs novel approach

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

10 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

13 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

14 hours ago

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

14 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...