Teenage binge alcohol use can affect brain functions in future offspring
Repeated binge alcohol use during adolescence can negatively affect brain functions in future generations, potentially putting offspring at risk for such conditions as
- Anxiety, and
- Metabolic disorders, a new study has found.
Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine study, entitled “Binge alcohol consumption during puberty causes altered DNA methylation in the brain of alcohol-naive offspring“, was presented Nov. 14, 2016 at Neuroscience 2016, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
In the study, one group of adolescent male and female rats was exposed to alcohol in amounts comparable to six binge alcohol intake episodes. The rats mated after becoming sober and the females remained sober during their pregnancies. (Thus, any effects on offspring could not be attributed to fetal alcohol syndrome.) The alcohol-exposed rats were compared to a control group of rats that were not exposed to alcohol.
In the offspring of alcohol-exposed rats, researchers examined genes in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain involved in many functions, including reproduction, response to stress, sleep cycles and food intake. Researchers looked for molecular changes to DNA that would reverse the on-off switches in individual genes. They found 159 such changes in the offspring of binge alcohol using mothers, 93 gene changes in the offspring of binge alcohol using fathers and 244 gene changes in the offspring of mothers and fathers who both were exposed to binge alcohol intake.
The study found that adolescent binge alcohol use altered the on-off switches of multiple genes in the brains of offspring. When genes are turned on, they instruct cells to make proteins, which ultimately control physical and behavioral traits. The study found that in offspring, genes that normally are turned on were turned off, and vice versa.
The study is the first to show a molecular pathway that teenage binge alcohol use by either parent can cause changes in the neurological health of subsequent generations.
While findings from an animal model do not necessarily translate to humans, there are significant similarities between the study’s animal model and humans, including their metabolism of alcohol, the function of the hypothalamus, and the pattern and amount of binge alcohol use.
Adolescent binge [alcohol use] not only is dangerous to the brain development of teenagers, but also may impact the brains of their children,” said senior author Toni R. Pak, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Public health hazard
Teenage binge alcohol use is a major health concern in the United States, with 21% of teenagers reporting they have done it during the past 30 days. Among alcohol users under age 21, more than 90% of the alcohol is consumed during binge alcohol use episodes.