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Eur J Biochem. 2001 Oct;268(19):5045-56.

Distribution of alcohol dehydrogenase mRNA in the rat central nervous system. Consequences for brain ethanol and retinoid metabolism.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, E-08193 Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain.


The localization of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) in brain regions would demonstrate active ethanol metabolism in brain during alcohol consumption, which would be a new basis to explain the effects of ethanol in the central nervous system. Tissue sections from several regions of adult rat brain were examined by in situ hybridization to detect the expression of genes encoding ADH1 and ADH4, enzymes highly active with ethanol and retinol. ADH1 mRNA was found in the granular and Purkinje cell layers of cerebellum, in the pyramidal and granule cells of the hippocampal formation and in some cell types of cerebral cortex. ADH4 expression was detected in the Purkinje cells, in the pyramidal and granule cells of the hippocampal formation and in the pyramidal cells of cerebral cortex. High levels of ADH1 and ADH4 mRNAs were detected in the CNS epithelial and vascular tissues: leptomeninges, choroid plexus, ependymocytes of ventricle walls, and endothelium of brain vessels. Histochemical methods detected ADH activity in rodent cerebellar slices, while Western-blot analysis showed ADH4 protein in homogenates from several brain regions. In consequence, small but significant levels of ethanol metabolism can take place in distinct areas of the CNS following alcohol consumption, which could be related to brain damage caused by a local accumulation of acetaldehyde. Moreover, the involvement of ADH in the synthesis of retinoic acid suggests a role for the enzyme in the regulation of adult brain functions. The impairment of retinol oxidation by competitive inhibition of ADH in the presence of ethanol may be an additional origin of CNS abnormalities caused by ethanol.

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