Even a single exposure to alcohol may permanently change the shape of nerve cells and lead to addiction, according to a study conducted on animals.
Neurons or nerve cells are the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world.
The researchers found that, in particular, alcohol affects the structure of the synapses as well as the dynamics of the mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses.
Synapses are the points of contact between neurons where information is passed from one neuron to the next.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used the genetic model system of the fruit fly.
It shows that alterations in the migration of mitochondria in the synapses lessen the rewarding effect of alcohol, the researchers said.
These findings imply that even a single drinking incident might lay the foundation for alcohol addiction, they said.
The majority of studies have focused on the consequences of chronic alcohol drinking on the hippocampus, our brain’s control center.
”We set out to discover ethanol-dependent molecular changes. These, in turn, provide the basis for permanent cellular changes following a single acute ethanol intoxication,” said Henrike Scholz from the University of Cologne in Germany.
”The effects of a single alcohol administration were examined at the molecular, cellular, and behavioral levels,” Scholz said.