Alcohol kills stem cells in the brain, new research finds.
Stem cells are responsible for making new cells — known as neurogenesis — and are key to maintaining normal cognitive function.
Females are particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, the study on mice found.
Chronic alcohol abuse is known to cause severe brain damage and neurodegenration.
It was thought for a long time that the body did not produce any new brain cells after early life, but relatively recently it has been shown that neurogenesis does occur in the brain.
Professor Ping Wu, who led the study, said:
“The discovery that the adult brain produces stem cells that create new nerve cells provides a new way of approaching the problem of alcohol-related changes in the brain.
However, before the new approaches can be developed, we need to understand how alcohol impacts the brain stem cells at different stages in their growth, in different brain regions and in the brains of both males and females.”
The study on adult mice found that repeated alcohol consumption damaged many parts of their brains.
However, the areas that were most susceptible were in two regions that are responsible for the production of new brain cells.
The study used cutting-edge methods to tag brain stem cells and watch how they migrate and develop over time.
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The study was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports (McGrath et al., 2017).