The study published in the journal 'Biological Psychiatry' says that alcohol exposure early in life has lasting effects on the brain and increases the risk of psychological problems in adulthood.
"Binge drinking early in life modifies the brain and changes connectivity in the brain, especially in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional regulation and anxiety, in ways we don't totally understand yet. But what we do know is that epigenetic changes are lasting, and increase susceptibility to psychological issues later in life, even if drinking that took place early in life is stopped," said Subhash lead author of the study.
Epigenetics refers to chemical changes to DNA, RNA, or specific proteins associated with chromosomes that change the activity of genes without changing the genes themselves. Epigenetic alterations are required for the normal development of the brain, but they can be modified in response to environmental or even social factors, such as alcohol and stress. These kinds of epigenetic alterations have been linked to changes in behaviour and disease.
The researchers exposed adolescent rats to a regimen designed to mimic binge drinking. Those rats exhibited anxious behaviour later in life, even if the binge drinking regimen stopped in late adolescence and the rats were allowed to mature to adulthood without any further exposure to alcohol.
These rats also had lower levels of a protein called Arc in the amygdala. Arc is important for the normal development of synaptic connections in the brain. Rats with less arc also had about 40 per cent fewer neuronal connections in the amygdala compared with rats that weren't exposed to alcohol.
If the amygdala has deficits in its wiring or connectivity, and these modifications are long-lasting, the individual is at risk for psychological issues based on difficulties in regulating emotions, such as anxiety or depression and the development of alcohol use disorder later in life.
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