DNA damage, DNA repair, and alcohol toxicity--a review

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1997 Sep;21(6):1073-82.


Alcohol (ethanol) is clearly a toxic substance when consumed in excess. Chronic alcohol abuse results in a variety of pathological effects, including damage to the liver and brain, as well as other organs, and is associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancers. Alcohol consumption by pregnant women can result in fetal alcohol effects and fetal alcohol syndrome. All of these toxic effects are well documented. What is needed at present is a complete understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which alcohol causes these toxic effects. Such an understanding may lead to better treatments of some of these toxic effects. This review, focuses on the possibility that toxic effects of ethanol are mediated, at least in part, by damage to DNA. In particular, I emphasize data on the production of endogenous DNA-damaging molecules as a result of alcohol consumption and metabolism. Specific examples of DNA-damaging molecules to be considered are reactive oxygen species, including oxygen radicals, lipid peroxidation products, and acetaldehyde. The relevant DNA repair pathways that protect cells against DNA damage produced by these molecules will also be reviewed. The goal of this review is to integrate recent results from the fields of mutagenesis and DNA repair with the alcohol toxicity literature, with the aim of stimulating research into the role of DNA damage in different types of alcohol toxicity and the role of DNA repair in protecting cells from alcohol-related damage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenicity Tests
  • DNA Adducts / drug effects
  • DNA Damage / drug effects*
  • DNA Repair / drug effects*
  • Ethanol / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Pregnancy


  • DNA Adducts
  • Ethanol