Saturday December 14, 2019

Early Exposure To Alcohol Can Increases The Risk For Anxiety Later in Life

A study showed adolescent binge drinking, even if discontinued, increases the risk for anxiety later in life due to abnormal epigenetic programming. 

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drinking
"Binge drinking early in life modifies the brain and changes connectivity in the brain, especially in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional regulation and anxiety, in ways we don't totally understand yet," said Subhash Pandey, Professor at the University of Illinois in the US. Pixabay

Are you a heavy drinker? Take note. Alcohol exposure early has lasting effects on the brain and increases the risk of anxiety in adulthood, say researchers, including one of an Indian-origin.

A study showed adolescent binge drinking, even if discontinued, increases the risk for anxiety later in life due to abnormal epigenetic programming.

“Epigenetics” refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves.

“Binge drinking early in life modifies the brain and changes connectivity in the brain, especially in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional regulation and anxiety, in ways we don’t totally understand yet,” said Subhash Pandey, Professor at the University of Illinois in the US.

DNA
“Epigenetics” refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. 
Pixabay

“But what we do know is that epigenetic changes are lasting and increase susceptibility to psychological issues later in life, even if drinking that took place early in life is stopped,” said Pandey.

For the study, adolescent rats that underwent an assessment for anxiety were exposed to ethyl alcohol for two days on and two days off or to the same protocol using saline for 14 days.

The rats were allowed to mature to adulthood without any further exposure to alcohol.

brain
“Epigenetics” refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. 
Pixabay

The rats exhibited anxious behaviour later in life, even after the binge drinking regimen stopped in late adolescence. They also had lower levels of a protein called Arc in the amygdala.

Arc is important for the normal development of synaptic connections in the brain.

The findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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Rats with less Arc also had about 40 per cent fewer neuronal connections in the amygdala compared with rats that weren’t exposed to alcohol.

The decrease in Arc levels is caused by epigenetic changes that alter the expression of Arc, and an enhancer RNA, which modifies the expression of Arc. These changes are caused by adolescent alcohol exposure, said Pandey. (IANS)

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Here’s how Casual Drinking Turns into Heavy Drinking

You never know when your casual drinking can turn into heavy drinking

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Heavy Drinking
Certain neurons are responsible to turn your casual drinking into heavy drinking. Lifetime Stock

Don’t just blame it on his friends if your hubby has suddenly started drinking more in recent times as scientists have now discovered neurons in a specific brain region that might be responsible for triggering sudden uptick in alcohol consumption.

Researchers have long known that a region of the brain called the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) plays a role in behaviours related to alcohol use and consumption in general.

Now, a team at University of North Carolina’s school of medicine have found a specific neural circuit that, when altered, caused animal models to drink less alcohol.

“The fact that these neurons promote reward-like behaviour, that extremely low levels of alcohol consumption activate these cells, and that activation of these neurons drive alcohol drinking in animals without extensive prior drinking experience suggests that they may be important for early alcohol use and reward,” elaborated senior study author Zoe McElligott, assistant professor of psychiatry and pharmacology.

“By understanding the function of this circuit, we can better predict what happens in the brains of people who transition from casual alcohol use to subsequent abuse of alcohol, and the development of alcohol use disorders”.

Drinking Alcohol
A few neurons are responsible for triggering alcohol consumption. Lifetime Stock

McElligott investigated if a population of neurons that express a specific neuropeptide (neurotensin or NTS) contributes to reward-like behaviours and alcohol drinking.

She was especially interested in these neurons in the context of inexperienced alcohol use, such as when a person first begins to drink alcohol.

Also, NTS neurons are a subpopulation of other neurons in this brain region that have been implicated in anxiety and fear.

Using modern genetic and viral technologies in male mice, McElligott and colleagues found that selectively lesioning or ablating the NTS neurons in the specific brain region, while maintaining other types of CeA neurons, would cause the animals to drink less alcohol.

This manipulation did not either alter anxiety-like behaviour or affect the consumption of other palatable liquids such as sucrose, saccharin and bitter quinine solutions.

“We found that these NTS neurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) send a strong projection to the hindbrain, where they inhibit the parabrachial nucleus, near the brainstem,” McElligott explained.

Using optogenetics — a technique where light activates these neurons — the researchers stimulated the terminal projections of the CeA-NTS neurons in the parabrachial and found that this stimulation inhibited the neurons in the parabrachial.

“Furthermore, when we stimulated this projection, animals would drink more alcohol as compared to when they had an opportunity to drink alcohol without laser stimulation,” McElligott said in a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience.The team hopes to explore how alcohol experience may change these neurons over time.

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Would these cells respond differently after animals have been drinking high quantities of alcohol over time?

“We also want to discover which populations of neurons in the parabrachial are receiving inputs from these neurons. Fully understanding this circuit could be the key to developing therapeutics to help people with alcohol use disorders,” said the researchers. (IANS)