How excess alcohol depresses immune function

August 16, 2011

Alcoholism suppresses the immune system, resulting in a high risk of serious, and even life-threatening infections. A new study shows that this effect stems largely from alcohol’s toxicity to immune system cells called dendritic cells. These cells play a critical role in immune function, responding to danger signals by searching for unfamiliar antigens within the body that would be coming from invading microbes, and presenting such antigens to T cells, thus activating them to seek and destroy cells containing these antigens. The research is published in the July 2011 issue of the journal Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

Earlier studies in mice had shown that excessive drinking of impaired T cell function, and subsequently that this impairment could be reversed by exposure to dendritic (so named for their shape) from non-alcoholic mice, and that poor function in CD4 and CD8 T cells could be improved through exposure to cytokines produced by non-alcoholic dendritic cells. (Cytokines are immune regulatory cells.) In this study, Jack R. Wands and colleagues of Brown University, Providence, RI, compared dendritic cells produced by alcoholic and non-alcoholic mice, which they first removed from the mice.  

The result: dendritic cells from the alcoholic mice had a poor ability to activate T cells, while the dendritic cells from mice on isocaloric diets containing no alcohol functioned normally. The researchers found further that the dendritic cells from alcohol-fed mice showed reduced antigen presentation compared to those from control mice, as well as less production of the regulatory cytokines. This research also confirmed earlier results showing that alcohol inhibits cytokine secretion by dendritic cells.

“This research helps us understand why alcoholics are predisposed to bacterial and viral infections, and why they do not respond well to vaccines,” says Wands. Understanding this, he says, will help in the development of ways to improve dendritic cell function in people with syndromes. 

Explore further: Skin sentry cells promote distinct immune responses

More information: A. Eden, et al., 2011. Ethanol inhibits antigen presentation by dendritic cells. Clin. Vaccine Immunol. 18:1157-1166.)

Related Stories

Skin sentry cells promote distinct immune responses

July 21, 2011

A new study reveals that just as different soldiers in the field have different jobs, subsets of a type of immune cell that polices the barriers of the body can promote unique and opposite immune responses against the same ...

Recommended for you

High-fat diet starves the brain

April 29, 2016

A high-fat diet of three days in mice leads to a reduction in the amount of glucose that reaches the brain. This finding was reported by a Research Group led by Jens Brüning, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism ...

A vitamin that stops the aging process of organs

April 28, 2016

Nicotinamide riboside (NR) is pretty amazing. It has already been shown in several studies to be effective in boosting metabolism. And now a team of researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Integrated Systems Physiology (LISP), ...

Lifestyle has a strong impact on intestinal bacteria

April 28, 2016

Everything you eat or drink affects your intestinal bacteria, and is likely to have an impact on your health. That is the finding of a large-scale study led by RUG/UMCG geneticist Cisca Wijmenga into the effect of food and ...

Tiny microscopes reveal hidden role of nervous system cells

April 28, 2016

A microscope about the size of a penny is giving scientists a new window into the everyday activity of cells within the spinal cord. The innovative technology revealed that astrocytes—cells in the nervous system that do ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.