17 April 2021

International study discovers molecular genetic changes induced by chronic alcohol overuse

Molecular genetic changes induced by chronic alcohol overuse is the subject of an international study involving Perron Institute and Murdoch University neuroscientist, Professor Sulev Koks.

Professor Koks, who is also a medical doctor, is the leader of the Genetic Epidemiology Research group at the Perron Institute and Murdoch University in Western Australia.

The recently published research looked for impacts in an area deep within the brain that is known to play an important role in functions such as memory, planning and decision making.

This region is called the dorsomedial thalamus. As well as its critical role in various cognitive processes, it actively processes sensory information and integrates it across neural networks. For this reason, it is often described as a relay station.

The research team examined post-mortem differences between individuals with alcohol-induced end-organ damage and a control group which did not have any signs or history of alcohol abuse.

“Chronic alcohol use and the progression into dependence produces persistent neuronal alterations in the brain,” Professor Koks said.

“The goal of this new research was to shed light on alcohol-induced molecular changes, specifically in the dorsomedial thalamus.

“Despite a relatively small number of subjects, the project was able to detect robust alcohol related molecular changes in this area of the brain.

“Our results emphasise the importance of deeper brain structures such as the dorsomedial thalamus in the development of brain impairment related to chronic alcohol use.

“Knowledge of what happens in this part of the brain is also important in understanding the neurobiological mechanisms of alcohol addiction and withdrawal,” Professor Koks said.

The study, recently published in Brain Sciences, an international, peer-reviewed, open access journal on neuroscience published by Switzerland-based journal publisher MDPI.

Dr Koks’ co-contributors, all from the University of Tartu in Estonia, are Dr Andreas-Christian Hade, Dr Mari-Ann Philips, Dr Ene Reimann, Dr Toomas Jagomae, Dr Kattri-Liis Eskla, Dr Tanel Traks, Dr Ele Prans, Professor Eero Vasar and Professor Marika Väli.

This work was supported by the Estonian Science Foundation, the Estonian Research Council, the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund and Estonia’s Center of Excellence in Genomics and Translational Medicine.

Prof Sulev Koks. Image credit: Murdoch University.