Interesting news for all you blackout drunks out there: Booze doesn't kill brain cells so much as interfere with brain receptors which can prevent memories from forming. Or so say researchers in the latest issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. “Alcohol isn’t damaging the cells in any way that we can detect,” senior investigator Charles F. Zorumski told ScienceBlog. “As a matter of fact, even at the high levels we used [in their experiment], we don’t see any changes in how the brain cells communicate. You still process information. You’re not anesthetized. You haven’t passed out. But you’re not forming new memories.”
So, yeah, it seems that alcohol doesn't kill your brain cells. Instead it just messes with receptors in the brain, "which in turn manufacture steroids that inhibit long-term potentiation (LTP), a process that strengthens the connections between neurons and is crucial to learning and memory." No biggie!
It's also worth noting that “It takes a lot of alcohol to block LTP and memory,” according to Zorumski (though other drugs can help). And “the mechanism isn’t straightforward. The alcohol triggers these receptors to behave in seemingly contradictory ways, and that’s what actually blocks the neural signals that create memories. It also may explain why individuals who get highly intoxicated don’t remember what they did the night before.”
And there's more good news: The team also figured that since they could block LTP they could also probably preserve it (at least in rats) with drugs called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors (which are often "prescribed to reduce a man’s enlarged prostate gland"). So they did, and it seems to have done something. Next up the team is looking to see if 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors or similar substances could one day be used to help preserve memories in people.
Salt is good for you, booze doesn't kill brain cells... what else did our parents lie to us about? Does masturbation really cause hair to grown on your palms, because we've been dying to try that for years.
[via The Awl]