Researchers from the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health (i3S) concluded that repetitive alcohol consumption directly affects immune cells in the central nervous system that eliminate part of the communication between neurons and cause increased anxiety.
Speaking to Lusa, Renato Socodota, an i3S researcher, explained today that the study, published in the scientific journal Science Signaling and which was being developed about five years ago, aimed to “understand the neurotoxic role of alcohol and the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved ”.
For this, the multidisciplinary team of researchers at i3S, used experimental models, namely, “male mice” and induced a pattern of “repetitive alcohol intake” for 10 days.
“If we did the translation for a healthy adult man it would correspond to five drinks a day, and in a woman the equivalent between three and four drinks”, explained Renato Socodota, the article’s first author.
Through these methodologies, researchers in the ‘Glial Cell Biology’ group showed that repetitive and excessive alcohol intake acts directly on the microglia (immune cells of the central nervous system), causing them to respond “long before neurons” to the effects of alcohol .
“Alcohol activates these cells and they eliminate synapses [elementos de comunicação entre os neurónios], which contributes to neuronal and possibly behavioral dysfunction that leads to addiction ”, explained the researcher, adding that these results are“ completely new and unexpected ”.
According to Renato Socodota, such conclusions show the need for the immune part of the central nervous system to be “considered a key element”.
Alongside the neurotoxic role of alcohol, the i3S ‘Addiction Biology’ research team, led by researcher Teresa Summavielle, studied “the role of microglia in the brain under the influence of alcohol”.
“The fact that we neglected other brain cells for a long time, considering them supportive, contributed that many of the therapies we have for brain-related diseases were not as efficient as they could be,” said the researcher.
Based on the same experimental model, the research group concluded that the pattern of “repetitive alcohol intake” for 10 days was “sufficient to increase anxiety levels”.
“Any change in synapses is reflected in behavior and this is relevant, because it shows that it is not necessary to have very long periods of excessive amounts of alcohol for anxiety to manifest,” he said.
In this study, the research group also showed that it is “possible to reverse the effect of alcohol”, namely, through drugs already used to fight cancer.
“We used drugs that were already approved to try to reduce the toxic effects of alcohol and it worked,” said Teresa Summavielle, adding that the group plans to continue the study.
“We would like to use a longer exposure model to see how the microglia’s reactivity profile is changed, how this is reflected in the link between the microglia and other cells, the impact it has on behavior and to what extent alcohol intake we managed to prevent the effects ”, he said.