Effects of Alcohol and Acetate on Cerebral Blood Flow: A Pilot Study

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019 Oct;43(10):2070-2078. doi: 10.1111/acer.14173. Epub 2019 Aug 24.


Background: Acute alcohol produces effects on cerebral metabolism and blood flow. Alcohol is converted to acetate, which serves as a source of energy for the brain and is an agonist at G protein-coupled receptors distributed in different cell types in the body including neurons. Acetate has been hypothesized to play a role in the cerebral blood flow (CBF) response after alcohol ingestion. We tested whether administration of acetate would alter CBF in a pattern similar to or different from that of alcohol ingestion in healthy individuals.

Methods: Twenty-four healthy participants were assigned by convenience to receive either 0.6 g/kg alcohol orally (n = 12) or acetate intravenously (n = 12). For each participant, CBF maps were acquired using an arterial spin labeling sequence on a 3T magnetic resonance scanner after placebo and after drug administration. Whole-brain CBF maps were compared between placebo and drug using a paired t-test, and set at a threshold of p < 0.05 corrected for multiple comparisons (k ≥ 142 voxels, ≥3.78 cm3 ), voxel-level p < 0.005. Intoxication was measured after placebo and drug administration with a Subjective High Assessment Scale (SHAS-7).

Results: Compared to placebo, alcohol and acetate were associated with increased CBF in the medial thalamus. Alcohol, but not acetate, was associated with increased CBF in the right orbitofrontal, medial prefrontal and cingulate cortex, and hippocampus. Plasma acetate levels increased following administration of alcohol and acetate and did not differ between the 2 arms. Alcohol, but not acetate, was associated with an increase in SHAS-7 scores (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Increased thalamic CBF associated with either alcohol or acetate administration suggests that the thalamic CBF response after alcohol could be mediated by acetate. Compared to other brain regions, thalamus may differ in its ability to metabolize acetate or expression of receptors responsive to acetate. Increased prefrontal and limbic CBF associated with alcohol may be linked to alcohol's behavioral effects.

Keywords: Acetate; Alcohol; Cerebral Blood Flow; Thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / blood
  • Acetates / pharmacology*
  • Administration, Intravenous
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Thalamus / blood supply
  • Thalamus / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Acetates
  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol