Alcohol Affects Mitochondria Due to Circadian Clock’s Disruption

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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Researchers may have finally confirmed the widely-held theory that there is a correlation between drinking alcohol and a higher risk of developing mitochondrial disease. New insights reveal that chronic drinking causes damage to the mitochondria, and consequently the liver, due to the effects of alcohol on the liver’s circadian clock. The discovery was made by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who studied the body’s circadian clock, which is also known as an “internal clock.”

It had already been demonstrated in previous research that liver function varies throughout the day due to the body’s internal clock. Following the circadian schedule has been reported to help improve overall health, while disruption of the clock can cause illnesses. The new research, which was recently presented at the American Physiological Society’s conference, held under the theme “Physiological Bionergetics: From Bench to Bedside,” presented its particular influence on mitochondria.

The research team found that chronic alcohol consumption affects the liver’s circadian clock, resulting in damage to the mitochondria, which are the organelles inside the cells responsible for the production of molecules that power the body’s natural processes.

In the study, researchers observed that the levels of proteins involved in mitochondrial function and energy production changed cyclically in the livers of healthy mice. On the other hand, mice that were fed with alcohol revealed rhythm alterations, as well as the complete loss of the rhythmic cycle of one particular mitochondrial protein called cytochrome c oxidase. The investigators also demonstrated that liver mitochondria is able to adapt to alterations in metabolic demands, due to its internal clock.

The main conclusion of the study is that chronic alcohol consumption causes disturbances in the circadian clock, making the mitochondria less flexible and prone to dysfunction, which increases the risk of developing conditions like alcoholic liver disease.

According to a news release, “The liver molecular circadian clock in chronic alcohol-induced mitochondrial dysfunction” was presented Thursday, September 10 by Jennifer Valcin, a doctoral researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, during the symposium “Mitochondria on the Move: Networking in Health and Disease.” The study was conducted by Dr. Valcin and colleagues under the mentorship of Dr. Shannon M. Bailey, professor of pathology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.