We already knew that regular alcohol consumption damages our thinking organ, but what does it really do to our brain? Look at this.

We all know that excessive drinking is bad for us, but do we know what it really does to our brains? Research by scientists at the University of Texas at Galveston (USA) suggests that long-term heavy drinking kills brain stem cells, which play a key role in proper cognitive functioning.


The experts investigated the impact of alcohol on neural stem cells, which are undifferentiated cells in the central nervous system that have the ability to specialize when needed, can self-renew and create differentiated progenitor cells.


During experiments on mice, they found that alcohol altered neural stem cell differentiation and affected cell survival. They also noted a different impact on women compared to men.


In the United States alone, approximately 88,000 adults die each year as a result of alcohol consumption.


“The discovery that the adult brain produces stem cells that create new nerve cells offers a new way to address the problem of alcohol-related changes in the brain. However, before new approaches can be developed, We need to understand how alcohol affects brain stem cells at different stages of growth, in different brain regions and in the different stages of development.
brains of men and women
We need to understand how alcohol affects brain stem cells at different stages of growth, in different brain regions and in different brain regions,” explains Ping Wu, leader of the study published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

Alcohol attacks stem cells

To study the fate of neural stem cells in laboratory mice exposed to long-term alcohol consumption, the team used the latest genetic techniques of inducible cell fate mapping. These provide a means to observe what happens to these cells over time, including how cells migrate and how they specialize.


They found that, of the subventricular and subgranular areas of the brain — which are thought to contain neural stem cells — the area beneath the lateral ventricles of the central nervous system was the most affected by chronic alcohol exposure.


In this region, the stem cells “were more susceptible to the effects of ethanol,” which disrupted their differentiation process. However, the scientists observed that chronic alcohol consumption appeared to kill most neural stem cells, as after long-term alcohol exposure, the stem cell pool was greatly diminished across the board.

Women, the most exposed

In addition, the researchers found that female mice were more susceptible to the effects of excess alcohol than their male counterparts.


“Females with ethanol showed more severe symptoms of intoxication and increased severity at a higher rate than males,” the authors reported.


Not only that, but the number of stem cells was also more significantly reduced in the brains of the females compared to those of the males.

“Probably the most interesting finding of this work is that regional location and sex played a key role in determining the neural stem cell response to ethanol consumption,” they comment.


In future studies, the researchers hope to reveal more information about the mechanism at play in the interaction between alcohol and these cells, which could lead to better strategies for addressing alcohol abuse.



Spatial and Sex-Dependent Responses of Adult Endogenous Neural Stem Cells to Alcohol Consumption. Erica L. McGrath, Junling Gao, Yong-Fang Kuo et al. Stem Cell Reports (2017) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.stemcr.2017.10.007