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University of Missouri

From Binge to Worse

A new study uncovers binge drinking’s genetic damage.

binge drinking

Binge drinking is on the rise, and a new MU study, funded by NIH grant AA 16347, finds that the practice causes genetic damage. ©istock.com

Most people know that chronic alcohol use can damage the liver. Now a study by MU’s Shivendra Shukla suggests that binge drinking amplifies the damage by disrupting gene-related structures called histones.

The problem of binge drinking — consumption of four (women) or five (men) drinks in two hours — is on the rise, with one in six adults partaking about four times a month. “This is not a problem that is going away,” says Shukla, the Margaret Proctor Mulligan Professor in the Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology.

Histones are proteins that serve as spools to hold strands of DNA, protect them and help them function. Shukla found that binge drinking modifies histones in ways that alter how the genetic code is interpreted and regulated. “The result is unnecessary replication in the copied structure. This initially causes inflammation and damage to the cells as they form, but it is also eventually the cause of more serious diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer.”

The liver, as the body’s main metabolic site, is the first organ damaged by binge drinking. Because of its role, including production of agents needed by the heart, kidney and brain, damage to the liver affects other parts of the body. Shukla likens the fallout to “a cluster bomb, sending out various damaging signals to other organ systems. If those organs are working at a lower level of function, then a whole host of physiological processes are affected as a consequence of binge drinking.”

Shukla’s study appeared in the April 2013 edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.