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Front Biosci. 1999 Aug 1;4:e58-66.

Oxidants, antioxidants and alcohol: implications for skeletal and cardiac muscle.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Guy's, King's and St Thomas's Medical School, King's College London, Bessemer Road, London SE5 9PJ, United Kingdom.


The chronic form of alcoholic skeletal myopathy is characterized by selective atrophy of Type II fibers and affects up to two thirds of all alcohol misusers. Plasma selenium and alpha-tocopherol are reduced in myopathic alcoholics compared to alcoholic patients without myopathy. Plasma carnosinase is also reduced in myopathic alcoholics, implicating a mechanism related to reduced intramuscular carnosine, an imidazole dipeptide with putative antioxidant properties. Together with the observation that alcoholic patients have increased indices of lipid peroxidation, there is evidence suggestive of free radical (i.e., unpaired electrons or reactive oxygen species) mediated damage in the pathogenesis of alcohol-induced muscle disease. Protein synthesis is a multi-step process that encompasses amino acid transport, signal transduction, translation and transcription. Any defect in one or more of the innumerable components of each process will have an impact on protein synthesis, as determined by radiolabelling of constituent proteins. Both acute and chronic alcohol exposure are associated with a reduction in skeletal muscle protein synthesis. Paradoxically, alcohol-feeding studies in rats have shown that the imidazole dipeptide concentrations are increased in myopathic muscles though alpha-tocopherol contents are not significantly altered. In acutely dosed rats, where protein synthesis is reduced, protein carbonyl concentrations (an index of oxidative damage to muscle) also decline slightly or are unaltered, contrary to the expected increase. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can ensue from heavy consumption of alcohol over a long period of time. The clinical features include poor myocardial contractility with reduced left ventricular ejection volume, raised tissue enzymes, dilation of the left ventricle, raised auto- antibodies and defects in mitochondrial function. Whilst oxidant damage occurs in experimental models, however this issues remains to be confirmed in the clinical setting. In the rat, circulating troponin-T release increases in the presence of ethanol, a mechanism ascribed to free radical mediated damage, as it is prevented with the xanthine oxidase inhibitor and beta-blocker, propranolol. However, whilst propranolol prevents the release of troponin-T, it does not prevent the fall in whole cardiac protein synthesis, suggestive of localized ischemic damage due to ethanol.

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