Alcoholics Have Significantly Lowered Gene Development Due to Heavy Drinking

Posted on August 30th, 2010
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Too much drinking can cause an array of symptoms that alcoholics are all too familiar with: mood changes, anger, aggression, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, poor health—just to name a few. Now, researchers have pinpointed a specific gene that is damaged by chronic alcohol consumption, disruption which can attribute to long-term, adverse mental and physical conditions in alcoholics.

The messenger ribonucleic acid molecule, or mRNA molecule, is responsible for producing proteins that help manage the body’s circadian rhythmicity, or daily biological rhythms. According to the study—published in an August online issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research—chronic alcohol use has been linked to disruption of the circadian clock genes expression, causing damage to the body’s circadian rhythm. This lack of gene production, as well as its lower restoration rate after being damaged, may explain why many alcoholics experience chronic physiological conditions, such as poor mental health, impaired sleep cycles, or even cancer.

In their study, lead researcher Ming-Chyi Huang and team evaluated the mRNA levels in 22 diagnosed alcohol-dependent (AD) male adults who were undergoing alcohol withdrawal treatment. The 22 AD patients were further divided into two subgroups—those considered having the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, delirium tremens (DT), and those who did not exhibit the presence of DT. The study also included 12 healthy adults as a control group for comparison. The researchers measured the mRNA levels in all the participants by extracting peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from blood samples. While all the participants were required to provide blood samples on the first morning of the study, the AD patients provided additional samples on the second morning of their alcohol withdrawal treatment (considered the baseline measurement) as well as their seventh day of treatment.

As a result, the AD patients showed dramatically lower levels of the circadian rhythm gene at baseline compared to the control group. Even after one week of detoxification treatment, these AD patients still exhibited low levels of the gene, with little restoration having occurred. Furthermore, the mRNA levels found in the DT subgroup did not differ from the mRNA levels in the non-DT group, indicating that chronic alcohol use in general drastically affects the production of this circadian clock gene.

Even though the study only examined the first week of alcohol withdrawal treatment, the researchers’ findings prove that considerable lowering of the circadian clock genes are taking place among AD individuals due to their over-consumption of alcohol. Not only did the AD patients’ drinking behavior create serious damage to their circadian rhythm regulation, but it also created long-term impairment of this gene expression. As a consequence, these individuals’ body systems will experience chronic circadian rhythm dysregulation, and may lead to immediate and long-term health complications.

The study by researcher Ming-Chyi Huang and colleagues from the Taipei Medical University in Taiwan will be published in the November print issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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