Cytotoxicity of short-chain alcohols

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 1999;39:127-50. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pharmtox.39.1.127.


Ethanol and other short-chain alcohols elicit a number of cellular responses that are potentially cytotoxic and, to some extent, independent of cell type. Aberrations in phospholipid and fatty acid metabolism, changes in the cellular redox state, disruptions of the energy state, and increased production of reactive oxygen metabolites have been implicated in cellular damage resulting from acute or chronic exposure to short-chain alcohols. Resulting disruptions of intracellular signaling cascades through interference with the synthesis of phosphatidic acid, decreases in phosphorylation potential and lipid peroxidation are mechanisms by which solvent alcohols can affect the rate of cell proliferation and, consequently, cell number. Nonoxidative metabolism of short-chain alcohols, including phospholipase D-mediated synthesis of alcohol phospholipids, and the synthesis of fatty acid alcohol esters are additional mechanisms by which alcohols can affect membrane structure and compromise cell function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohols / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Phosphorylation


  • Alcohols