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ESS professor leads important study on the addition


Study with new and unexpected results says that repetitive alcohol consumption affects immune cells of the nervous system

Teresa Summavielle, professor at the Escola Superior de Saúde (ESS) of the Polytechnic of Porto and researcher at the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health (i3S), participates in an important study on how the repetitive consumption of alcohol and how it directly affects immune cells of the central nervous system eliminating part of the communication between neurons and causing increased anxiety.

Researchers in the "Glial Cell Biology" group showed that repetitive and excessive alcohol intake acts directly on microglia (immune cells of the central nervous system), causing them to respond long before neurons to the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol activates these cells that eliminate synapses [communication elements between neurons], which contributes to neuronal and possibly behavioral dysfunction that leads to addiction. Alongside the neurotoxic role of alcohol, i3S 'Addiction Biology research team, led by researcher Teresa Summavielle, studied “the role of microglia in the brain under the influence of alcohol”. "The fact that we neglected other brain cells for a long time, considering them supportive, contributed to the fact that many of the therapies we have for brain-related diseases were not as efficient as they could be," said the researcher.

Based on the same experimental model, the research group concluded that the pattern of "repetitive alcohol intake" for ten days was "sufficient to increase anxiety levels". "Any change in synapses is reflected in behavior and this is relevant, because it shows that it is not necessary to have very long periods of excessive amounts of alcohol for anxiety to manifest".

In this study, the research group also showed that it is “possible to reverse the effect of alcohol”, namely through drugs already used to fight cancer. "We used drugs that were already approved to try to reduce the toxic effects of alcohol and it worked," said Teresa Summavielle, adding that the group plans to continue the study. “We would like to use a longer exposure model to see how the microglia's reactivity profile changes, how this is reflected in the connection between the microglia and other cells, the impact that this has on behavior and to what extent alcohol intake we were able to prevent the effects.”

The ESS professor has a degree in biochemistry and a PhD in the area of nervous system development under exposure to psychostimulant drugs. Director of the Addiction Biology Group (IBMC), which studies the mechanisms of neurotoxicity induced by drug abuse and addiction. Coordinates “Neurobiology of Dependency” courses in two doctoral programs at the University of Porto.