Drinking Alcohol Blocks a Chemical in the Brain That Promotes Attention

Brain Chemistry Concept

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Norepinephrine release to cells is reduced, triggering waterfall of impacts.

In a brand-new paper, scientists from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) report brain chemistry that might add to why drinkers have trouble focusing while under the impact.

The work is moneyed by generous assistance from the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation and by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health. Findings were released today (December 2, 2020) in Nature Communications.

“When we want to focus on something, or when we stand up from a chair and become active, a brain stem nucleus releases a chemical called norepinephrine. Acute exposure to alcohol inhibits this signal in the brain,” stated senior author Martin Paukert, MD, assistant teacher of cellular and integrative physiology at UT Health San Antonio. When attention is required for a job, norepinephrine is produced by a brain structure called the locus coeruleus. Scientists formerly did not comprehend well what takes place next, however Dr. Paukert and the group revealed that the norepinephrine connects to receptors on cells called Bergmann glia. This results in a calcium increase in these cells.

Martin Paukert

Martin Paukert, M.D., of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is studying astroglia cells and how they connect with nerve cells in the brain. Credit: UT Health San Antonio

Bergmann glia are astrocytes (caretaker or supporting cells) in the cerebellum, an area near the brain stem. “To our knowledge, this paper is the first description that norepinephrine in mammals directly binds to receptors on the Bergmann glia and activates them through calcium elevation,” Dr. Paukert stated.

The scientists concentrated on the Bergmann glia however likewise showed that the exact same phenomenon takes place in cortical astrocytes. “Most likely vigilance-dependent astrocyte calcium activation is inhibited throughout the brain by acute alcohol intoxication,” Dr. Paukert stated.

Persons under the impact are off-balance when they stroll. The scientists anticipated to discover that the inhibition of calcium increase in Bergmann glia would likewise discuss this. It didn’t. “The calcium elevation in Bergmann glia is not critical for motor coordination, which is somewhat surprising because the cerebellum is classically known for its role in motor control,” Dr. Paukert stated. “However, our findings are in line with current suggestions that the cerebellum also plays critical roles in non-motor functions, and that astrocytes are not only supporting basic brain maintenance, but they may actively participate in cognitive function.”

The coauthors consisted of Manzoor Bhat, PhD, teacher and chairman of cellular and integrative physiology at UT Health San Antonio. “The beauty of the studies reported by Paukert and coauthors is that they have been conducted in real time in living and breathing animals using state-of-the-art technologies,” Dr. Bhat stated. “The findings will open up new avenues of defining the brain circuits that ultimately determine the state of alertness, and how chemicals that interfere with those circuits essentially dampen this inherent vigilance system of the brain.”

The group used a strategy called two-photon imaging to study specific mice acquired from partners at Johns Hopkins University and Heidelberg University.

Reference: “Ethanol abolishes vigilance-dependent astroglia network activation in mice by inhibiting norepinephrine release” by Liang Ye, Murat Orynbayev, Xiangyu Zhu, Eunice Y. Lim, Ram R. Dereddi, Amit Agarwal, Dwight E. Bergles, Manzoor A. Bhat and Martin Paukert, 2 December 2020, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19475-5

Funding: Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Mental Health.

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