While the majority of alcoholics are male, a new study suggests that women are more prone to brain damage from alcohol abuse than men.
But a new study by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center suggests that women are more prone to brain damage from alcohol abuse than men.
The study led by Kristine Wiren, Ph.D., Oregon Health & Science University, found that female mice are more susceptible to neurotoxic effects of alcohol withdrawal, including significantly increased brain cell death, than male mice.
It also found the gender difference exists whether the animals are prone to severe withdrawal due to a genetic predisposition, or resistant to it.
Wiren said she was surprised by the results.
“We designed the experiment to be able to identify gene expression differences between lines of mice that are genetically selected for severe alcohol withdrawal compared with mice that are resistant to alcohol withdrawal,” Wiren said.
“I thought there would be a difference between the genders, but I didn’t think it would be the most important thing.”
She added, “The withdrawal severity phenotypes do show some differences, but they’re subtle.”
The study appears in the online edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
“The results suggest that females are more vulnerable to neurotoxic consequences of alcohol withdrawal,” Wiren noted. “Everyone should be concerned about chronic alcohol consumption and severe intoxication, but females may be more vulnerable.”
This data is “consistent with some controversial human studies that suggest that females do develop more brain damage than male alcoholics.”
Future studies, including one funded by the VA, will examine the role that hormones play in response to alcohol withdrawal, include the possibility that the male hormone androgen exacerbates cell death in males.
“What we’re looking at now is the involvement of testosterone in mediating the cell death in females,” Wiren said. “Not just in chronic conditions, but in acute (alcohol consumption) situations, testosterone levels drop in males. In females, they may rise.”
Wiren also wants to look at a longer withdrawal time course.
“Maybe males show damage at a different time point,” she said. “Or it might have happened earlier and they’re showing repair.”