Studies in recent years have demonstrated that binge drinking can decrease bone mass and bone strength, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Therefore, the new findings could help in the development of new drugs to minimize bone loss in alcohol abusers. Such drugs also might help people who don't abuse alcohol but are at risk for osteoporosis.
"Of course, the best way to prevent alcohol-induced bone loss is to not drink or to drink moderately. But when prevention doesn't work, we need other strategies to limit the damage," said bone biologist John Callaci, PhD.
In the new study, researchers injected rats with an amount of alcohol equivalent to binge drinking for three days or to chronic alcohol abuse for four weeks. Control groups received injections of saline.
Researchers focused on genes responsible for bone health. They found that alcohol affected the amounts of RNA associated with these genes. (RNA serves as the template for making proteins, the building blocks of bones and other tissue.)
With some genes, alcohol increased the amount of RNA. With other genes, alcohol decreased the RNA. Changing the amounts of RNA disrupted two molecular pathways responsible for normal bone metabolism and maintenance of bone mass.
These pathways are called the Wnt signaling pathway and the Intergrin signaling pathway.
"We found that the expressions of certain genes important for maintaining bone integrity are disturbed by alcohol exposure," Callaci said.
The study has been published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.