2010 issue 1

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Volume 19, issue 1

Review article

Molecular analysis of neuroplasticity of the brain of alcoholics – a genomic and neuropsychological perspective

Mariusz Panczyk1, Paweł Krukow2
1. Zakład Dydaktyki i Efektów Kształcenia Warszawskiego Uniwersytetu Medycznego
2. Zakład Psychologii Klinicznej i Neuropsychologii Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej w Lublinie
Postępy Psychiatrii i Neurologii 2010; 19(1): 53–60
Keywords: neuroplasticity, alcoholism, prefrontal cortex, reward system

Abstract

Objective. The paper presents a review of research on molecular analysis of selected brain structures in alcohol abusers, with particular emphasis on specific characteristics of neuroplasticity mechanisms subject to pathological changes resulting from alcohol intoxication.
Review. The mesocorticolimbic system constitutes the main pathway in the reward system targeted by most medications presently used in alcohol dependence treatment. Neuroadaptive changes induced in that cerebral area by alcohol use provide a substrate for the development of alcohol tolerance and dependence. During the past decade attempts have been made by a few research teams to describe changes in expression of several thousand genes in autopsy studies using alcohol-dependent persons' brain tissue, in order to identify alcohol-sensitive gene groups. Research findings reported by different authors have in common, first and foremost, the description of changes in the gene panel responsible for oxidative stress, as well as biochemical pathways responsible for energy provision. Moreover, in tissues acquired from the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental areas changes were found in expression of genes responsible for neurotransmission (i.e. neurotransmitters, transporters, and synaptic receptors) and for transduction of intercellular signals.
Conclusions. Expression changes found in cortical areas of the brain are associated with pathologic processes caused by a long-term exposure of nervous tissue to the impact of alcohol and its metabolites. Moreover, the body of changes described in the mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic pathway at the molecular level are related to the neuroplastic efficacy of the cerebral neurochemical system. Therefore, it seems that the traditional neuropsychiatric and neuropsychological views on the determinants of nervous tissue degeneration in the alcoholic brain should be re-examined.

Address for correspondence:
Dr Mariusz Panczyk
ul. Żwirki i Wigury 61, 02-091 Warszawa
tel. 600-044-356, mail
mariusz.panczyk@wum.edu.pl.