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Study: Alzheimer's drug could reverse alcohol effects on young brains

UPI Health News (Business)


An drug used to treat Alzheimer's disease could help reverse some of the negative effects of adolescent binge drinking on the brain, a study published Tuesday indicates.

Researchers at Duke Health used rats to study the effects of binge drinking alcohol on the adolescent brain and how those effects could be mitigated later in the life.

Previous studies show that binge drinking changes the brain's hippocampus, causing inflammation and neuron damage. The hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory and is linked to anxiety.

Though heavy drinking during adolescence isn't likely to cause severe brain damage for most humans, but it could cause people to lose their "edge," lead author Scott Swartzwelder said.

"The changes can be subtle, but who wants even subtle deficits in their brain function or how they think and feel?" he said. "Studies in animal models show that adolescent alcohol exposure can change the ways nerve cells communicate with each other, and the level of plasticity in brain circuits -- compromising the ability of the brain to change and adapt. These changes can be seen in adulthood -- long after the alcohol exposure has ended."

In the study, scientists exposed adolescent rats to alcohol, and once they reached adulthood, treated them with the drug donepezil, a cognition-enhancing drug sold under the brand name Aricept. The rats that received the rug showed less inflammation and a better ability to produce new neurons compared to the rats that didn't.

"We don't know if the reversal of these alcohol effects by donepezil is permanent, but it at least transiently reverses them," Swartzwelder said.

The report, published in Scientific Reports, said the research shows the potential to repair some types of alcohol-related brain damage in adolescent humans.

"It's obvious that not everyone who drinks during adolescence grows up and completely fails at life," Swartzwelder said. "You might not notice the deficits in obvious ways every day, but you run the risk of losing your edge. Sometimes a small impairment of brain function can have a broad ripple effect in someone's life."

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