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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2002 Mar;26(3):363-70.

Ethanol enhances activation-induced caspase-3 dependent cell death in T lymphocytes.

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Graduate Center for Toxicology, University of Kentucky Medical Center, Lexington, KY 40202, USA.



Clinical and experimental studies have shown that an important deleterious consequence of excessive alcohol consumption is immunosuppression, specifically, a depletion in the mature CD4+ T-cell population. A predominant mechanism involved in T-cell depletion is activation-induced cell death (AICD). Although it is well documented that ethanol intake can cause depletion of CD4+ T cells, the mechanism of how alcohol mediates its effects is unclear.


The results were based on data from three separate experiments presented as mean +/- standard deviation (SD). Jurkat CD4+ T cells and peripheral blood lymphocytes were treated with 25 mM of ethanol (12-18 hr), followed by stimulation with mitogens Conconavalin A (5 microg/ml) and Phytohemmaglutinin (1 microg/ml) or T-cell receptor ligation (anti-CD3 antibody (5 microg/ml)) for 6 hr, and then harvested for measurement. The apoptotic cell death markers measured include cell viability, Caspase-3-like activity, and DNA fragmentation.


We demonstrate that alcohol pretreatment enhances AICD of Jurkat CD4+ T cells and peripheral blood lymphocytes upon activation by CD3-crosslinking or stimulation with Conconavalin A and Phytohemmaglutinin. Furthermore, we find that the ethanol-mediated enhancement of T cells to apoptosis involves increased activation of Caspase-3 and can be abrogated by treatment with a specific inhibitor of Caspase-3.


Our data indicate that ethanol can sensitize CD4+ T cells to enhanced stimulation-induced Caspase-3 activation and to subsequent AICD. This is, perhaps, an important mechanism in alcohol-induced immunosuppression.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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