A hormone called growth factor fibroblasts 21 (FGF21) was able to restore the loss of balance and the righting reflex induced by ethanol in mice, according to a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
FGF21 is generated in the liver by a variety of metabolic stresses, ranging from starvation, to protein deficiency or ingestion of simple sugars and ethanol. Previous studies have shown that the hormone, which is also found in humans, could be a defense against drunkenness, suppressing preference for ethanol and prompting drinking of water to prevent dehydration.
Now the current trial appears to show that the hormone plays a broader role in defending against damage from ethanol exposure than previously thought.
“We discovered that the liver is not only involved in alcohol metabolism, but also sends a hormonal signal to the brain to protect against the harmful effects of poisoningincluding loss of consciousness and coordination,” says molecular biologist Steven Kliewer of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and one of the study authors.
“We have further shown that by further increasing FGF21 concentrations via injection, we can dramatically speed up recovery from poisoning. FGF21 does this activating a very specific part of the brain that controls alertness“.
Their findings further reveal that FGF21 fights these effects of intoxication, such as drowsiness and incoordination, without changing the basis of how alcohol is broken down in the body. Which means that its harmful health effects are still there.
Ultimately, the researchers believe this could be used to wake up people suffering from alcohol poisoning or extreme drunkenness so they can receive better treatment.
In their work, the researchers found that mice lacking FGF21 took longer than their littermates to recover the righting reflex and balance after exposure to ethanol.
On the other hand, those that produced it naturally reduced recovery time from unconsciousness and muscle incoordination when receiving an additional injection of the hormone.
“These results suggest that this FGF21 liver-brain pathway evolved to protect against ethanol-induced intoxication and that it could be a pharmaceutical target for treating acute alcohol intoxication,” the researchers write.
However, more research is still needed to confirm that these effects carry over to humans.