Alcohol metabolism and epigenetics changes

Alcohol Res. 2013;35(1):6-16.


Metabolites, including those generated during ethanol metabolism, can impact disease states by binding to transcription factors and/or modifying chromatin structure, thereby altering gene expression patterns. For example, the activities of enzymes involved in epigenetic modifications such as DNA and histone methylation and histone acetylation, are influenced by the levels of metabolites such as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM). Chronic alcohol consumption leads to significant reductions in SAM levels, thereby contributing to DNA hypomethylation. Similarly, ethanol metabolism alters the ratio of NAD+ to reduced NAD (NADH) and promotes the formation of reactive oxygen species and acetate, all of which impact epigenetic regulatory mechanisms. In addition to altered carbohydrate metabolism, induction of cell death, and changes in mitochondrial permeability transition, these metabolism-related changes can lead to modulation of epigenetic regulation of gene expression. Understanding the nature of these epigenetic changes will help researchers design novel medications to treat or at least ameliorate alcohol-induced organ damage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Histones / drug effects
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / drug effects
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / metabolism
  • Sirtuin 1 / drug effects
  • Sirtuin 1 / metabolism


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Histones
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Ethanol
  • S-Adenosylmethionine
  • Sirtuin 1