"Molecular analysis of this cell memberane channel ultimately will increase our knowledge of how alcohol affects the brain
and, thereby, the way a person functions," said Enoch Gordis, M.D., Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism (NIAAA), a component of the National Institutes of Health.
Joanne M. Lewohl, Ph.D., and her associates identified the effect of ethanol on the G-protein-coupled inwardly rectifying
potassium channel (GIRK). GIRKs are widely distributed in the brain and play a major role in regulating inhibitory
responses in the central nervous system. They act by regulating neuron-to-neuron communication and the rate of this
Whereas most potassium channels are either unaffected or inhibited by ethanol and other alcohols, GIRK channels were
shown to be sensitive to ethanol at a concentration below the legal level for intoxication (10mM), the researchers found.
This high sensitivity to relatively minor changes may influence substantially the capability of neurons to communicate. The
researchers conclude that ethanol enhances or exaggerates the effect of normal neurotransmitter action, producing
profound physiological effects in the central nervous system.
"The cellular effects of alcohols on the central nervous system have significant implications for understanding alcohol
addiction," said R. Adron Harris, Ph.D., study coauthor and Director of the Waggoner Center at the University of Texas.
"We have begun genetic manipulation of the new membrane channel to determine how it influences alcohol consumption
For interviews with Drs. Lewohl and Harris, telephone 512/232-2514. To interview Dr. Gordis, telephone NIAAA
Press, 301/443-3860. For additional alcohol research information, visit http://www.niaaa.nih.gov.