Frequent alcohol drinking kills new cells in key brain regions, with females being more vulnerable, a new study on mice said Thursday.
Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston discovered that alcohol killed the stem cells that are responsible for creating new nerve cells and important to maintaining normal cognitive function in adult mouse brains.
And for the first time, the research showed that brain changes due to alcohol exposure are different for females and males.
The findings, published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, may help open a door to combating chronic alcoholism.
For the study, UTMB researchers used a cutting-edge technique to tag brain stem cells in order to observe how they migrate and develop into specialized nerve cells over time.
This allowed the researchers to study the impact of long-term alcohol consumption on the cells.
It showed that chronic alcohol drinking killed most brain stem cells and reduced the production and development of new nerve cells.
However, the effects of repeated alcohol consumption differed across brain regions.
The brain region most susceptible to the effects of alcohol was one of two brain regions where new brain cells are created in adults.
The researchers also found that female mice displayed more severe intoxication behaviors and more greatly reduced the pool of stem cells in a brain region called the subventricular zone.
Ping Wu, UTMB professor in the department of neuroscience and cell biology, who led the study, said in a statemenet that the discovery "provides a new way of approaching the problem of alcohol-related changes in the brain."
"We need to understand how alcohol impacts the brain stem cells at different stages in their growth, in different brain regions and in the brains of both males and females," Wu said.