Growing up, you always hear that drinking alcohol kills brain cells. According to a new report (not to mention a slow recovery from the EpiGenie New Year’s Eve Bash) there’s definitely some truth to that old adage.
Researchers at Indiana University looked at alcohol’s effect on neural stem cells (NSCs) during development by running NSC samples through MeDIP-chip experiments. Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “underage drinking”, stem cells were analyzed with and without a 6 hour binge-like alcohol exposure to find out if DNA methylation was being altered.
The Hoosier scientists determined that not only does alcohol change methylation patterns, but it blocks the necessary methylation programming changes that normally occur as NSCs differentiate. Because of this, several key genes do not get properly methylated, and differentiation stalls.
Validation experiments uncovered several genes that alcohol kept from getting the proper methylation, including genes related to neural development, neuronal receptors and olfaction.
Insights from their work showing alcohol’s ill effects on neural stem cell DNA methylation programming have led the authors closer to understanding the mechanisms behind Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and they plan to further study DNA methylation’s role in that condition.
To order another round of details, see the full article in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, April 2011.