Alcohol's inebriating effects are familiar to everyone. But the molecular details of alcohol's impact on brain activity remain a mystery. Now, a new study by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies brings us closer to understanding how alcohol alters the way brain cells work.
Their findings, published in the current advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience,
reveal an alcohol trigger site located physically within an ion channel protein; their results could lead to the development of novel treatments for alcoholism, drug addiction, and epilepsy.
Ethanol, the alcohol in intoxicating beverages, is known to alter the communication between brain cells. "There's been a lot of interest in the field to find out how alcohol acts in the brain," says Paul A. Slesinger, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Peptide Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, who led the study. "One of several views held that ethanol works by interacting directly with ion channel proteins, but there were no studies that visualized the site of association."
Slesinger and his team now show that alcohols directly interact with a specific nook contained within a channel protein. This ion channel plays a key role in several brain functions associated with drugs of abuse and seizures.