Eep in your brain, which is a very important tissue called white matter. Only in the last decade, researchers have realized that white matter is not passive infrastructure, but actually a pile of nerve fibers that affect learning and brain function. It is important that researchers recently discovered that alcohol affects white matter adversely even after a person has interrupted drinking and reporting their news on Tuesday in JAMA Psychiatry .
Previous studies have shown that alcohol changes the structure of white matter even though a person only drinks moderate amounts, which can lead to accelerated cognitive decline when a person gets older. This new study is unique because it is one of the first to examine the condition of white matter after a person becomes sober. And the view is not great.
Lead author Santiago Canals, Ph.D., a principal researcher at the Department of Neuroscience in Spain, announced on Tuesday that "so far no one could believe that in the absence of alcohol, the damage to the brain would develop."
The study focused on two groups: humans and rats. The human group included 90 male patients over 46 years of age who were hospitalized for alcohol disorders. There was also a comparative group of 36 healthy men who were an average age of 41 years. The researchers scanned the brain of the patients with diffusion-weighted MRI and discovered that although the group of 90 had been abstaining from alcohol for six weeks, there were still negative signs of change in their brain's white issues.
To understand the exact nature of these changes, the researchers looked more closely at examining rats who were trained to also rely on alcohol. After also having gone through a period of abstinence, the roots of the root showed a generalized change in white matter, which was most intense in the sections called corpus callosum and fimbria. The first is the bridge between the left and right sides of the brain, while the latter contains nerve fibers that communicate to the hippocampus.
The hippocampus, a brain structure essential for learning and memory, is well known for being affected by heavy drinking. Studies have shown that chronic drink reduces the overall volume of the hippocampus, making it harder for a person not only to maintain memories but also to learn new things. So far, it has been unclear whether the hippocampus heals itself after strong drinkers have interrupted alcohol.
Now it seems that the damage caused by alcohol is at least still apparent after six weeks after not drinking. This team is planning to investigate further. They will discover the underlying process that causes this change and examine what happens to a brain as people with alcohol problems become sober. Research shows that after detoxification, a brain can bounce back, but it is clear that things are not completely healed.
Significance: Although the harmful effects of alcohol are widely recognized, structural changes observed are highly heterogeneous, and lack of diagnostic markers for characterization of alcohol-induced brain damage, especially in early abstinence. This heterogeneity, which probably contributed to comorbidity factors in patients with alcohol disorders (AUD), challenges a direct link in brain changes in the pathophysiology of alcohol abuse. Animal model translation studies can help bridge this causal link.
Conclusions and relevance: Using a translational DTI approach, comparable white matter changes were found in patients with AUD and long-term rats. In humans and rats, development of DTI changes in early abstinence (2-6 weeks) suggests an underlying process that develops shortly after cessation of alcohol use.