Titrating Tipsy Targets: The Neurobiology of Low-Dose Alcohol

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2017 Jun;38(6):556-568. doi: 10.1016/j.tips.2017.03.002. Epub 2017 Mar 31.


Limited attention has been given to our understanding of how the brain responds to low-dose alcohol (ethanol) and what molecular and cellular targets mediate these effects. Even at concentrations lower than 10mM (0.046 g% blood alcohol concentration, BAC), below the legal driving limit in the USA (BAC 0.08 g%), alcohol impacts brain function and behavior. Understanding what molecular and cellular targets mediate the initial effects of alcohol and subsequent neuroplasticity could provide a better understanding of vulnerability or resilience to developing alcohol use disorders. We review here what is known about the neurobiology of low-dose alcohol, provide insights into potential molecular targets, and discuss future directions and challenges in further defining targets of low-dose alcohol at the molecular, cellular, and circuitry levels.

Keywords: alcohol; ethanol; intoxication; low-dose; molecular targets; neurobiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / blood
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Ethanol / poisoning*
  • Humans


  • Ethanol