Chronic Abuse Changes Brain's Programming. (Alcoholism)

Article excerpt

Like a computer virus that is eating away software, chronic alcohol abuse can change the programming of critical areas of the human brain on the molecular level, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin warn. R. Adron Harris, director of the school's Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research and lead author of the study, indicates that "A critical question in addiction is how the reprogramming of the brain leads to long-lasting, severe, life-threatening dependence."

The researchers studied the superior frontal cortex of the brain, a crucial area involving judgment and decisionmaking. These are "tasks that are corrupted in addiction. Just as a computer virus can change the programming of specific functions, our data show that chronic alcohol abuse can change the molecular programming and circuitry of the frontal cortex." All cells have exactly the same genes or DNA. Different cells work differently because only some genes are "turned on" in each cell, a process referred to as gene expression. RNA acts as a messenger, translating instructions from DNA into the proteins that determine the appearance and function of each cell. Drugs disrupt this normally well-regulated process.

"Alcohol can change gene expression in the brain. …