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Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):331-41, 344-51.

Neuroimmune Function and the Consequences of Alcohol Exposure.

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Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Department of Animal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.


Induction of neuroimmune genes by binge drinking increases neuronal excitability and oxidative stress, contributing to the neurobiology of alcohol dependence and causing neurodegeneration. Ethanol exposure activates signaling pathways featuring high-mobility group box 1 and Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), resulting in induction of the transcription factor nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells, which regulates expression of several cytokine genes involved in innate immunity, and its target genes. This leads to persistent neuroimmune responses to ethanol that stimulate TLRs and/or certain glutamate receptors (i.e., N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors). Alcohol also alters stress responses, causing elevation of peripheral cytokines, which further sensitize neuroimmune responses to ethanol. Neuroimmune signaling and glutamate excitotoxicity are linked to alcoholic neurodegeneration. Models of alcohol abuse have identified significant frontal cortical degeneration and loss of hippocampal neurogenesis, consistent with neuroimmune activation pathology contributing to these alcohol-induced, long-lasting changes in the brain. These alcohol-induced long-lasting increases in brain neuroimmune-gene expression also may contribute to the neurobiology of alcohol use disorder.

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