Researchers have found that the immune system may have a significant role in the way the body reacts to alcohol consumption.
According to Dr. Mark Hutchinson, a researcher at the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicinal Sciences, a brain receptor known as a toll-like receptor (TLR4) involved in the brain’s immune system signaling can influence behavioral actions after consuming alcohol, such as difficulty controlling muscles related to talking and walking.
Although it is well understood among the scientific community that alcohol affects the central nervous system, there is still much about how alcohol affects the brain’s processes, like nerve cell action, that remains unknown. Because of this, newer research, such as that conducted by Dr. Hutchinson and his colleagues, has been focusing on alcohol’s ability to rapidly change the immune system cells in the brain.
In their study, the research team evaluated the immune system’s TLR4 in groups of laboratory mice after administering a single shot of alcohol to the mice. To study the TLR4’s involvement in the brain’s processing of consumed alcohol, the researchers blocked the effect of the toll-like receptors by administering a TLR4-antagonist to the mice. Dr. Hutchinson’s team also administered the alcohol shot to a group of mice that had been genetically altered so that their TLR4 receptors were lacking functionality. Then, the researchers studied the groups of mice’s behaviors induced by alcohol consumption, such as sedation and motor impairment, and their ability to recover from impairment.
Blocking the TLR4 in both cases-either with the antagonist drug or genetically-significantly reduced the behavioral effects of alcohol in the mice. Blocking the immune system receptor decreased the duration of intoxication, motor impairment, and recovery time. Although the study involved mice, the researchers believe the immune systems in humans may produce the same effects following alcohol consumption. Those who experience bad outcomes after consuming alcohol or those at risk of brain damage due to excessive drinking could potentially be more successfully treated by targeting their immune system’s TLR4 during treatment. For the future, the researchers suggest, medications that target the toll-like receptor could be implemented in alcohol-related treatment, as alcohol consumption causes both a neuronal and an immunological response.
The researchers’ new study has been published online in the British Journal of Pharmacology.