All that stumbling and slurring embarrassment after drinks could arise from the impact of alcohol on the immune system, according to new research at the University of Adelaide.
The discovery also means that alcohol, sedation and motor in-coordination are likely responsible for traffic accident-related deaths in humans. Hence the discovery could boost chances of targeted treatment of alcohol-related problems.
"It's amazing to think that despite 10,000 years of using alcohol, and several decades of investigation into the way that alcohol affects the nerve cells in our brain, we are still trying to figure out exactly how it works," says lead researcher Dr Mark Hutchinson from the University's School of Medical Sciences.
In research published in the latest edition of the British Journal of Pharmacology
, Dr Hutchinson's team gave a single shot of alcohol to laboratory mice and studied the effect of blocking Toll-like receptors, a particular element of the immune system, on the behavioral changes induced by alcohol. The researchers used drugs to block these receptors. They also studied the effects of giving alcohol to mice that had been genetically altered so that they were lacking the functions of selected receptors.
The results showed that blocking this part of the immune system, either with the drug or genetically, reduced the effects of alcohol. While the research was carried out on mice, Hutchinson's team believes that similar treatments could also work in humans.
"Medications targeting Toll-like receptor 4 may prove beneficial in treating alcohol dependence and acute overdoses," says Dr Hutchinson.
This work has significant implications for our understanding of the way alcohol affects us, as it is both an immunological and neuronal response. Such a shift in mindset has significant implications for identifying individuals who may have bad outcomes after consuming alcohol, and it could lead to a way of detecting people who are at greater risk of developing brain damage after long-term drinking.
Thus the results may have important clinical applications in binge drinking-related brain conditions and alcohol dependence, which may culminate in preventing traffic accidents and decreasing social burden of alcohol abuse.