The link between inflammation, bugs, the intestine and the brain in alcohol dependence

Transl Psychiatry. 2017 Feb 28;7(2):e1048. doi: 10.1038/tp.2017.15.


In recent years, some new processes have been proposed to explain how alcohol may influence behavior, psychological symptoms and alcohol seeking in alcohol-dependent subjects. In addition to its important effect on brain and neurotransmitters equilibrium, alcohol abuse also affects peripheral organs including the gut. By yet incompletely understood mechanisms, chronic alcohol abuse increases intestinal permeability and alters the composition of the gut microbiota, allowing bacterial components from the gut lumen to reach the systemic circulation. These gut-derived bacterial products are recognized by immune cells circulating in the blood or residing in target organs, which consequently synthesize and release pro-inflammatory cytokines. Circulating cytokines are considered important mediators of the gut-brain communication, as they can reach the central nervous system and induce neuroinflammation that is associated with change in mood, cognition and drinking behavior. These observations support the possibility that targeting the gut microbiota, by the use of probiotics or prebiotics, could restore the gut barrier function, reduce systemic inflammation and may have beneficial effect in treating alcohol dependence and in reducing alcohol relapse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Alcoholism / immunology*
  • Alcoholism / metabolism
  • Alcoholism / therapy
  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cognition
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Permeability
  • Prebiotics
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use


  • Cytokines
  • Prebiotics