Heavy Alcohol Use Has a Powerful Impact on Teen’s Brains, Study Finds – UB Now: News and Views for UB Faculty and Staff

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of binge drinking in the United States.

Defined as the consumption of five or more drinks over a two-hour period for men or four or more drinks for women, excessive alcohol consumption is associated with numerous health problems in adults, including an increase in violence, accidental injury and death, memory impairment and an increased risk of cancers, heart disease and other chronic diseases.

How excessive alcohol consumption affects adolescents, particularly the adolescent brain, which is still developing, has not been well understood.

Today, a UB research team, funded by UB’s Clinical and Addiction Research Institute, published a preclinical study demonstrating the powerful effect of excessive alcohol consumption on the brain adolescent rats. He also found that even low and moderate amounts of alcohol can have a significant impact on brain function.

The article was published on May 14 in the journal Metabolic brain disease.

Previous research has suggested that exposure to alcohol during adolescence can lead to the development of various health risks, such as addiction, depression, and brain trauma, in adulthood.

“To this end, we wanted to understand how excessive alcohol consumption in adolescents alters brain function and brain connectivity, the ability of different regions of the brain to interact,” says Panayotis K. Thanos, lead author and principal investigator at Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

“To do this, we looked at glucose utilization,” he explains. “By mapping the use of glucose throughout the brain, we can get an idea of ​​how excessive alcohol consumption changes brain function and where these changes occur in the brain. We can then use this data to learn about future alcohol-induced neurological or psychiatric dysfunctions in adulthood.

The researchers focused on glucose metabolism in the brain because it is the brain’s main source of energy.

“While the brain only makes up about 2% of an individual’s body weight, it consumes about 20% of the glucose in the body,” Thanos explains. “Glucose metabolism in the brain is essential for carrying out normal physiological processes. By understanding how the brain uses glucose, we can get an idea of ​​how the brain works. »

To determine how excessive ethanol alcohol consumption affected glucose metabolism in adolescent brains, researchers performed positron emission tomography (PET) scans on rats that had been given an alcohol/water drink solution. .

The study found that all levels of alcohol consumption – low, moderate and high – decreased blood sugar metabolism in the primary somatosensory cortex and visual cortex, which are essential for processing sensory and visual information, as well as to the performance of motor functions.

“Our brain imaging (PET) data showed that heavy drinking in adolescents has broad functional implications in the brain,” Thanos says. “Excessive alcohol consumption decreased brain function in areas responsible for sensory, motor, memory and cognitive processes. This is consistent with the known behavioral consequences of alcohol consumption: impaired vision, decreased motor skills and coordination, confusion and the like.

He says the data also provides a circuit map of the brain’s functional response to heavy drinking that will be important targets for future study of the chronic effects of heavy drinking.

The UB study is the first animal model of binge drinking in adolescents that features simultaneous imaging of the animal’s brain while awake. “This is important because, for obvious reasons, we cannot realistically study the acute brain effects of underage drinking in the human population,” Thanos says.

What the study revealed about how low and moderate amounts of alcohol consumption affect teenage brains is also interesting.

“The interesting finding was the similarities between low and moderate doses of alcohol consumed,” says Thanos. “Although the low dose of alcohol consumed did not meet the criteria for binge drinking in humans, it still promoted a very similar profile in the brain compared to the dose of alcohol that meets the criteria. criteria for excessive alcohol consumption.

“This adolescent rat model allows us to capture the effects of excessive alcohol consumption and visualize its deleterious effects on brain function,” he says. “By doing so, we can begin to understand the neurobiological links between brain function and future behavioral deficits in adulthood.”

Co-authors with Thanos are Cecilia Rapp, an undergraduate student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering; John Hamilton, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Kaleigh Richer, graduate student in the Department of Psychology; and Munawwar Sajjad, research professor, and Rutao Yao, professor, both in the Department of Nuclear Medicine.

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