Enzymatic mechanisms of ethanol oxidation in the brain

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2006 Sep;30(9):1500-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2006.00181.x.


Background: The exact enzymatic mechanisms of ethanol oxidation in the brain are still unclear. The catalase-mediated oxidation of ethanol was demonstrated in rat brain using incubation of brain homogenates with catalase inhibitors. The role of the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) or cytochrome P450-dependent system in this process is possible, but has not been confirmed. The objective of the study was to determine the contribution of the different enzymatic pathways to ethanol oxidation in brain homogenates from mice and rats.

Methods: Three approaches were used to investigate the enzymatic mechanisms of ethanol oxidation in the brain of rats and mice: (1) preincubation of brain homogenates with inhibitors of the ethanol-metabolizing enzymes (catalase, CYP2E1, ADH, and ALDH); (2) utilization of mice with genetic deficiency in ethanol-metabolizing enzymes (catalase, CYP2E1, or both enzymes); and (3) determination of ethanol oxidation in brain subcellular fractions known to have differential activity of ethanol-metabolizing enzymes. The ethanol-derived acetaldehyde (AC) and acetate were determined in brain samples by gas chromatography.

Results: The catalase inhibitors sodium azide (5 mM) and aminotriazole (5 mM) as well as CYP2E1 inhibitors diallyl sulfide (2 mM) and beta-phenethyl isothiocyanate (0.1 mM) lowered significantly the accumulation of the ethanol-derived AC and acetate in brain homogenates. The ADH inhibitor 4-methyl pyrazole (5 mM) significantly decreased the acetate but not the AC accumulation. Ethanol-derived AC accumulation in brain homogenates of acatalasemic mice was 47% of the control value, 91% in CYP2E1-null mice, and 24% in double mutants (with deficiency of both catalase and CYP2E1). The highest levels of ethanol oxidation were found in microsomal and peroxisomal subcellular brain fractions, where CYP2E1 and catalase are located, respectively.

Conclusions: Catalase is the key enzyme of ethanol oxidation in the brain of rodents: it may be responsible for about 60% of the process. CYP2E1 plays an important role in ethanol oxidation in the rodent brains. Alcohol dehydrogenase plays a minor role, if any, in this process. Aldehyde dehydrogenase plays the crucial role in the further oxidation of ethanol-derived AC in the brain homogenates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / metabolism
  • Acetates / metabolism
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / enzymology*
  • Catalase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Catalase / genetics
  • Catalase / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / metabolism*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1 / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1 / metabolism
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1 Inhibitors
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genetic Variation
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Subcellular Fractions / enzymology


  • Acetates
  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1 Inhibitors
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Genetic Markers
  • Ethanol
  • DNA
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • Catalase
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2E1
  • Acetaldehyde