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Scientists Find Source of Connection Between Severe Alcoholism And Heart Problems

Posted in Alcoholism

An individual who chronically drinks heavily often destroys relationships with those around him, finds that employment or academic achievement is out of reach and struggles with financial problems. These issues are troublesome, but they are only one side of the consequences of alcoholism.

There are physical problems as well. Besides certain liver diseases and cancer, there are also heightened risks relating to heart disease. While it is known that the heart is put under stress by severe alcoholism, there has not been full knowledge of the precise functions that lead to the breakdown.

A new study conducted by researchers at the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health, located in Albany, and Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, provides new information about heart damage resulting from heavy alcohol use.

The researchers used electron microscopic tomography to create images of mitochondria in 3D. They were able to see that the mitochondria are attached by small tethers to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a compartment where calcium is kept. By collaboration between the two groups of researchers, they were able to discover that when there is a calcium overload, it causes damage to the mitochondria. This causes a shut-down of the energy production and can cause cells to die.

The researchers compared the functions of the heart in two different groups of rats. One group was healthy while the other group had been given alcohol for a period of six months. Their pumping chambers, along with the calcium regulation and cell structure were monitored by the researchers.

3D images showed that the rats’ mitochondria that were given alcohol were disorganized. The team’s objective was to examine the interaction between the mitochondria and the ER with particular attention given to the tethers that bind the two together. Certain observations of damage in the tethers may provide information about the effects of alcohol on the heart.

Lead researcher at Albany Carmen Mannella, Ph.D., explained that the hope of both research teams is to identify the cause of heart disease in those who heavily consume alcohol. By working together and utilizing the 3D analysis and functional information about the mitochondria and ER and how calcium signaling is affected by alcohol, they may learn new information about the heart’s response to alcohol consumption.

The research provided by the two teams may prove useful for developing new ways to treat heart disease related to alcohol consumption. With information about the precise functions that are damaged by alcohol, there may be possibilities for developing medications that can repair or slow the damage caused to the tethers between the mitochondria and the ER.