The University of Illinois at Chicago received $8.2 million from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to continue the Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics and its research on how alcohol affects genes through epigenetics — chemical changes to DNA, RNA or proteins that alter the expression of genes without directly modifying them.
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that treatment for alcohol use disorder or binge drinking behavior may be more effective if sex differences are considered. Amy Lasek, associate professor of psychiatry and anatomy and cell biology, led the research, which looked specifically at estrogen receptors in the brain to determine the mechanisms by which estrogen regulates alcohol sensitivity.
University of Illinois at Chicago researchers report that intermittent exposure to high levels of alcohol in adolescent animals leads to increased levels of microRNA-137 — a molecule that regulates gene expression in cells — in the brains of adults. Their findings, which are published in the journal eNEURO, also show that blocking microRNA-137 in adulthood helps to reverse or reduce the lasting effects of youth drinking in animal models, such as increased alcohol use and anxiety. “MicroRNA-137 is an important part of normal brain development, but when young brains are exposed to high amounts of alcohol intermittently, as happens with binge drinking behavior, the molecule’s regular function is altered,” said Subhash Pandey, professor of psychiatry and director of the UIC Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics. “By altering microRNA-137 levels, binge drinking actually rewires the brain.”
Teenage binge drinking is linked to altered gene expression in the brain, specifically the central nucleus of the amygdala. Adolescent rats exposed to alcohol had increased levels of miR-137, resulting in lower expression of proteins essential for healthy neuron growth. During adulthood, these rats displayed higher levels of anxiety and an increased preference for alcohol consumption.
The new report is the latest installment of work led by NIAAA grantee Subhash C. Pandey, Ph.D., professor and director of the NIAAA-funded Alcohol Research Center in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Senior Research Career Scientist at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. Dr.
New preclinical research in rats has identified a link between adolescent alcohol exposure and specific molecular changes in the brain that contribute to increased anxiety in adulthood. A large body of evidence demonstrates a strong relationship between alcohol and anxiety problems in humans.