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Do Estrogens Affect Alcohol Use Disorders?

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Image: Amy Lassek, an associate professor of psychiatry, anatomy, and cell biology, led the study to specifically examine estrogen receptors in the brain and determine which estrogen-mediated mechanism…
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Credit: UIC / Jenny Fontaine

A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that higher estrogen levels make alcohol more beneficial to female mice.

This study Journal of NeuroscienceSuggests that treatment of alcohol use disorders or abuse may be more effective when considering gender differences.

Amy Lassek, an associate professor of psychiatry, anatomy, and cell biology, led a study that specifically looked at estrogen receptors in the brain to determine the mechanism by which estrogen regulates alcohol sensitivity.

In one experiment, researchers analyzed postmortem brain tissue samples from female mice in two reproductive cycle phases. One is characterized by high estrogen levels and the other is characterized by low estrogen levels. They activated estrogen receptors and tracked how dopamine neurons responded to alcohol.

“We found that when one estrogen receptor was activated, the alpha receptor, dopamine neurons, responded to alcohol and had a faster rate of firing,” said the UIC’s Alcohol Research Center (Epigenetics). Says Lasek. “The effect was also greater in tissues taken from high estrogen mice.”

Lasek says that this increased neural activity may lead to greater pleasure when drinking.

“This enhanced feeling of reward may be more likely for alcohol abuse, especially binge drinking behavior,” Lasek said.

In another experiment, researchers blocked estrogen receptors in the ventral tegmental area of ​​the brain-a region that contains dopamine neurons and is known to be associated with drug use-present We have tracked the behavior of both female and male mice under alcohol.

They found that reducing the number of estrogen receptors, such as estrogen receptor alpha, led to reduced drinking behavior, but only in female mice.

“This is a new finding suggesting that there may be a sex-specific role of estrogen receptors in the ventral tegmental area for alcohol use,” Lasek said.

“By learning more about the role of estrogens in brain sensitization to the effects of alcohol, we can develop more personalized therapies for alcohol use disorders and educate women better about how drinking affects them differently. May be able to provide different stages of the reproductive cycle.

“This is especially important because more men are diagnosed with alcohol use disorders, but about 5.3 million women in the United States also suffer from alcohol use disorders,” Lasek said. “There is evidence that women are rapidly transitioning from problematic drinking to alcohol use disorders and suffering from the adverse health effects of alcohol such as increased cancer risk, liver damage, heart disease, and brain damage.”

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This research is supported by funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (P50AA022538, U01 AA020912), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01DA033429), and the National Center for Translational Sciences (UL1TR002003) it was done.

The UIC co-authors of this study are Bertha Vandegrift, Elisa Hilderbrand, Rosalba Satta, Rex Tai, Donghong He, Chang You, Hu Chen, Pingwen Xu, Cassandre Coles and Mark Brodie.

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