Lead researcher Dr Mark Hutchinson, ARC Research Fellow with the University’s School of Medical Sciences, said his team’s research provided new evidence that an immune response in the brain was involved in behavioural responses to alcohol.
This immune response lies behind some of the well-known alcohol-related behavioural changes, such as difficulty controlling the muscles involved in walking and talking.
“It’s amazing to think that despite 10,000 years of using alcohol, and several decades of investigation into the way that alcohol affects the nerve cells in our brain, we are still trying to figure out exactly how it works,” says lead researcher Dr Mark Hutchinson from the University’s School of Medical Sciences.
“Alcohol is consumed annually by two billion people world-wide with its abuse posing a significant health and social problem,” said Dr Hutchinson. “Over 76 million people are diagnosed with an alcohol abuse disorder.
“This work has significant implications for our understanding of the way alcohol affects us, as it is both an immunological and neuronal response. Such a shift in mindset has significant implications for identifying individuals who may have bad outcomes after consuming alcohol, and it could lead to a way of detecting people who are at greater risk of developing brain damage after long-term drinking.”
The research is published in the latest edition of the British Journal of Pharmacology by PhD student Yue Wu, supervisor Dr Hutchinson, and others. Laboratory mice were given a single shot of alcohol and the researchers studied the effect of blocking toll-like receptors, a particular element of the immune system, on the behavioural changes induced by alcohol.
The researchers studied the effects of blocking the receptors by drugs, and also the effects of giving alcohol to mice that had been genetically altered so that they were lacking the functions of the selected receptors.
“The results showed that blocking this part of the immune system, either with the drug or genetically, reduced the effects of alcohol,” Dr Hutchinson said. He believes similar treatment could work in humans.
“Medications targeting this specific receptor – toll-like receptor 4 – may prove beneficial in treating alcohol dependence and acute overdoses,” Dr Hutchinson said.