Moderate alcohol consumption over a relatively long period of time can enhance the formation of new nerve cells in the adult brain. The new cells could prove important in the development of alcohol dependency and other long-term effects of alcohol on the brain. The findings are published by Karolinska Institutet.
The study, which was carried out on mice, examined alcohol consumption corresponding to that found in normal social situations. The results show that moderate drinking enhances the formation of new cells in the adult brain. The cells survive and develop into nerve cells in the normal manner. No increase in neuronal atrophy, however, could be demonstrated.
It is generally accepted these days that new nerve cells are continually being formed in the adult brain. One suggestion is that these new neurons could be important for memory and learning. The number of new cells formed is governed by a number of factors such as stress, depression, physical activity and antidepressants.
“We believe that the increased production of new nerve cells during moderate alcohol consumption can be important for the development of alcohol addiction and other long-term effects of alcohol on the brain,” says associate professor Stefan Brené.
“It is also possible that it is the ataractic effect of moderate alcohol consumption that leads to the formation of new brain cells, much in the same way as with antidepressive drugs.”
The researchers are now following up these exciting findings to understand the role that the new nerve cells thus formed play in cerebral activity.