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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Mar 1987; 84(5): 1413–1416.
PMCID: PMC304440

Basal and adenosine receptor-stimulated levels of cAMP are reduced in lymphocytes from alcoholic patients.


Alcoholism causes serious neurologic disease that may be due, in part, to the ability of ethanol to interact with neural cell membranes and change neuronal function. Adenosine receptors are membrane-bound proteins that appear to mediate some of the effects of ethanol in the brain. Human lymphocytes also have adenosine receptors, and their activation causes increases in cAMP levels. To test the hypothesis that basal and adenosine receptor-stimulated cAMP levels in lymphocytes might be abnormal in alcoholism, we studied lymphocytes from 10 alcoholic subjects, 10 age- and sex-matched normal individuals, and 10 patients with nonalcoholic liver disease. Basal and adenosine receptor-stimulated cAMP levels were reduced 75% in lymphocytes from alcoholic subjects. Also, there was a 76% reduction in ethanol stimulation of cAMP accumulation in lymphocytes from alcoholics. Similar results were demonstrable in isolated T cells. Unlike other laboratory tests examined, these measurements appeared to distinguish alcoholics from normal subjects and from patients with nonalcoholic liver disease. Reduced basal and adenosine receptor-stimulated levels of cAMP in lymphocytes from alcoholics may reflect a change in cell membranes due either to chronic alcohol abuse or to a genetic predisposition unique to alcoholic subjects.

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