Role of the innate immune system in the neuropathological consequences induced by adolescent binge drinking

J Neurosci Res. 2018 May;96(5):765-780. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24203. Epub 2017 Dec 7.


Adolescence is a critical stage of brain maturation in which important plastic and dynamic processes take place in different brain regions, leading to development of the adult brain. Ethanol drinking in adolescence disrupts brain plasticity and causes structural and functional changes in immature brain areas (prefrontal cortex, limbic system) that result in cognitive and behavioral deficits. These changes, along with secretion of sexual and stress-related hormones in adolescence, may impact self-control, decision making, and risk-taking behaviors that contribute to anxiety and initiation of alcohol consumption. New data support the participation of the neuroimmune system in the effects of ethanol on the developing and adult brain. This article reviews the potential pathological bases that underlie the effects of alcohol on the adolescent brain, such as the contribution of genetic background, the perturbation of epigenetic programming, and the influence of the neuroimmune response. Special emphasis is given to the actions of ethanol in the innate immune receptor toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), since recent studies have demonstrated that by activating the inflammatory TLR4/NFκB signaling response in glial cells, binge drinking of ethanol triggers the release of cytokines/chemokines and free radicals, which exacerbate the immune response that causes neuroinflammation/neural damage as well as short- and long-term neurophysiological, cognitive, and behavioral dysfunction. Finally, potential treatments that target the neuroimmune response to treat the neuropathological and behavioral consequences of adolescent alcohol abuse are discussed.

Keywords: TLR4/NFκB signaling response; adolescence; binge alcohol drinking; neurobehavioral dysfunctions; neuroimmune response; neuroinflammation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Binge Drinking / immunology*
  • Binge Drinking / pathology*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects