Binge drinking in adolescence has been shown to have lasting effects on the wiring of the brain and is associated with increased risk for psychological problems and alcohol use disorder later in life.
Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics have shown that some of these lasting changes are the result of epigenetic changes that alter the expression of a protein crucial for the formation and maintenance of neural connections in the amygdala — the part of the brain involved in emotion, fear and anxiety. Their results, which are based on the analysis of postmortem human brain tissue, are published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
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 modifications are involved in the normal development of the brain, but they can be influenced by environmental or even social factors, such as alcohol and stress. These kinds of epigenetic alterations have been linked to changes in behavior and disease.