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Alcoholics With Cirrhosis Have More Brain Damage

Genes connected with higher functions are changed by continued abuse, study finds

TUESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Alcoholics with cirrhosis (scarring and dysfunction) of the liver have more brain function impairment than other alcoholics, according to new research.

Researchers examined gene expression in the frontal cortex of the brains of seven alcoholics with cirrhosis and 14 alcoholics without cirrhosis.

"We found that the levels of many important brain genes changed in the cirrhotic patients. These genes are important in regulating cell death and how individual cells in the brain talk to each other in a meaningful way," study corresponding author R. Dayne Mayfield, a research scientist at the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a prepared statement.

Out of a total of 1,125 genes, 482 genes showed increased expression, and 643 genes showed decreased expression in the brain tissue of those with cirrhosis.

Mayfield said that the genes examined in this study "are responsible for proper connections and communication between cells in the brain. Without them, normal function would not be possible."

He noted that in people with cirrhosis, the liver is unable to remove poisons from the blood. These poisons can move into the brain and disrupt normal function.

The findings are published in the September issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

About 10 percent to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis, which is the seventh leading cause of death among young and middle-aged adults in the United States. Each year in the United States, 10,000 to 24,000 people die from alcohol-related cirrhosis.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about cirrhosis.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, Aug. 27, 2007

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