Brain abnormalities observed in alcohol use disorder are highly heterogeneous in nature and severity, possibly because chronic alcohol consumption also affects peripheral organs leading to comorbidities that can result in exacerbated brain alterations. Despite numerous studies focussing on the effects of alcohol on the brain or liver, few studies have simultaneously examined liver function and brain damage in alcohol use disorder, and even fewer investigated the relationship between them except in hepatic encephalopathy. And yet, liver dysfunction may be a risk factor for the development of alcohol-related neuropsychological deficits and brain damage well before the development of liver cirrhosis, and potentially through inflammatory responses. The use of animal models enables a better understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying liver-brain relationships in alcohol use disorder, and more particularly of the inflammatory response at the tissue, cerebral and hepatic levels. The objective of this translational study was to investigate, both in alcohol use disorder patients and in a validated animal model of alcohol use disorder, the links between peripheral inflammation, liver damage and brain alterations. To do this, we conducted an in vivo neuroimaging examination and biological measures to evaluate brain volumes, liver fibrosis and peripheral cytokines in alcohol use disorder patients. In selectively bred Sardinian alcohol-preferring rats, we carried out ex vivo neuroimaging examination and immunohistochemistry to evaluate brain and liver inflammatory responses after chronic (50 consecutive weeks) alcohol drinking. In recently abstinent and non-cirrhotic alcohol use disorder patients, the score of liver fibrosis positively correlated with subcortical regions volumes (especially in right and left putamen) and level of circulating proinflammatory cytokines. In Sardinian alcohol-preferring rats, we found macrostructural brain damage and microstructural white matter abnormalities similar to those found in alcohol use disorder patients. In addition, in agreement with the results of peripheral inflammation observed in the patients, we revealed, in Sardinian alcohol-preferring rats, inflammatory responses in the brain and liver were caused by chronic alcohol consumption. Since the liver is the main source of cytokines in the human body, these results suggest a relationship between liver dysfunction and brain damage in alcohol use disorder patients, even in the absence of major liver disease. These findings encourage considering new therapeutic strategies aiming at treating peripheral organs to limit alcohol-related brain damage.
Keywords: MRI; alcohol use disorders; brain; inflammation.
© The Author(s) (2021). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Guarantors of Brain.