If it only depends on the brain, women can consume more alcohol than men

Men and women can have different levels of vulnerability to disorders associated with alcohol use — and this has a biological explanation, according to a survey conducted in the United States. In preclinical experiments, scientists analyzed the relationship of rodents, of different sexes, with the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Such an effect may be similar in humans, if future studies confirm this idea.

Published in the scientific journal in Nature Communications, the study — carried out by scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine, USA — examined a specific region of the rodent brain, the nucleus of the terminal stria (BNST). This is a structure associated with the stress response and, in humans, its activity is connected to binge eating and also to excessive alcohol consumption.

In an experiment with rodents, females consume more alcohol than males of the same species (Image: Reproduction/Riccardo ragione/Unsplash)

Understand the study

According to the authors, a significant portion of BNST neurons is more excitable in females than in males. In part, this may explain the increased susceptibility of rodents to excessive alcohol consumption. On the other hand, the same study found that another group of neurons, the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT), acts as a brake on BNST activity and, interestingly, has a stronger influence on female BNST compared to male BNST of rodents.

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In other words, it’s as if the PVT could contain the excessive alcohol consumption through this brake in females but not in males. However, as much as rodents can receive more protection with this mechanism, they can also be more vulnerable when this brake is interrupted, which can happen with the emergence of certain diseases.

“This study highlights that there are sex differences in the biology of the brain that controls alcohol consumption behaviors, and we really need to understand these differences if we are to develop optimal treatments for alcohol drinking disorder,” explained the study’s lead author and professor of the study. Weill Cornell Medicine, Kristen Pleil.

Does it apply to humans?

In human society, women tend to consume less alcohol than men. However, it is necessary to analyze this behavior, based on cultural factors, such as female oppression. In fact, in recent decades, the gender gap has significantly decreased, especially among younger women, this consumption.

Brain can handle alcohol consumption in different ways depending on gender (Image: Reproduction/Twenty484443photos/Envato Elements)

“The females of all mammal species, compared to males, exhibit greater alcohol abuse and progress from the first use of alcohol to disease states more quickly”, comments researcher Pleil. “But there has been almost no research into the neural details behind this sex difference,” he adds.

In this scenario, the sex differences discovered in the PVT-BNST circuit may have relevance greater than alcohol consumption. According to the authors, this mechanism is also related to anxiety disorders — which, again, are more common in women.

Now, new studies should evaluate alternatives for controlling this mechanism, initially, in rodents. In the future, it is likely that therapies based on these two groups of neurons will be available for human use.

To access the full study on the mechanism of alcohol consumption, click here.

Source: Medical X Press

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