Alcohol Damages DNA In Stem Cells

Scientists have shown how alcohol damages DNA in stem cells, which may help to explain how drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of cancer, according to research led by scientists from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (UK)  and part-funded by Cancer Research UK. Much previous research looking at the precise ways in which alcohol causes cancer has been done in cell cultures. But in this study, published in Nature, researchers used mice to show how alcohol exposure leads to permanent genetic damage.

The scientists gave diluted alcohol, chemically known as ethanol, to mice. They then used chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing to examine the genetic damage caused by acetaldehyde, a harmful chemical produced when the body processes alcohol. They found that acetaldehyde can break and damage DNA within blood stem cells leading to rearranged chromosomes and permanently altering the DNA sequences within these cells. It is important to understand how the DNA blueprint within stem cells is damaged, because when healthy stem cells become faulty they can give rise to cancer.

Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells. While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage,” said Professor Ketan Patelopens in new window, lead author of the study and scientist, part-funded by Cancer Research UK, at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

The study also examined how the body tries to protect itself against damage caused by alcohol. The first line of defence is a family of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH). These enzymes break down harmful acetaldehyde into acetate, which our cells can use as a source of energy.

Worldwide, millions of people, particularly those from South East Asia, either lack these enzymes or carry faulty versions of them. So, when they drink, acetaldehyde builds up which causes a flushed complexion, and also leads to them feeling unwell.

In the study, when mice lacking the critical ALDH enzyme ALDH2 – were given alcohol, it resulted in four times as much DNA damage in their cells compared to mice with the fully functioning ALDH2 enzyme.

Source: https://www.mrc.ac.uk/

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