Newswise — Epigenetics refers to how certain life circumstances can cause genes to be silenced or expressed, become dormant or active, over time. New research shows that adolescent binge drinking can lead to epigenetic reprogramming that predisposes an individual to later psychiatric disorders such as anxiety. These data will be shared at the 40th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Denver June 24-28.
“Adolescence is an important period of growth,” said Subhash C. Pandey, Ph.D., professor and director of the Alcohol Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is when the brain is maturing, and consistent epigenetic programing occurs. This is also a period when binge drinking is prevalent. Adolescent binge drinking can disrupt epigenetic programing in key brain regions by changing certain key molecular targets within the epigenome.”
Pandey explained that early life exposure to alcohol can have not only long-lasting effects on brain chemistry but also induce a predisposition to psychiatric problems such as alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders. “Anxiety disorder is highly comorbid with alcoholism,” he said, “and adolescent alcohol exposure can lead to the development of high anxiety and alcohol intake in adulthood.” Pandey will elaborate on these findings at the RSA meeting on June 25.
“More specifically, our data indicate that the enzymes histone deacetylases and demethylases – which are responsible for the regulation of histone acetylation and methylation – are altered in adulthood due to previous adolescent alcohol exposure. This alteration causes specific genes involved in regulating synaptic events to become suppressed, leading to high anxiety and high alcohol drinking behavior.” In other words, adolescent alcohol exposure can change the architecture where certain genes reside, and thus modify how the genes perform.
“In short,” said Pandey, “epigenetic reprogramming in the brain due to early life experiences or exposure to alcohol can lead to the changes in gene functions and predispose an individual to adult psychopathology.”
Pandey will present these findings during the RSA 2017 meeting on Sunday, June 25 at 10:05 during a symposium titled “Role of stable and enduring marks of the epigenome in the development of alcoholism” at the Hyatt Regency Denver.