A team of scientists seems to be on the right track to developing an effective treatment for drunkenness. In research this week, they were able to quickly sober up drunk mice by boosting their levels of a naturally produced hormone called FGF21. More research will need to be done, but the team believe that FGF21 could one day be used to treat acute episodes of alcohol intoxication.
The study was conducted by scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. For years, they and others have studied FGF21 as a potential bulwark against alcohol. The hormone is produced by the liver and plays a role in helping us process certain foods, especially alcohol. Studies have find that alcohol is perhaps the most potent inducer of FGF21 production in mice and humans, for example. And the team’s previous research has show that it increases the urge in mice to drink water while intoxicated, a measure that would help prevent alcohol-related dehydration. Some research has even suggested that it can actively repress the desire for alcohol.
In their latest book, published Tuesday in Cell Metabolism, the team compared the results of mice raised without the ability to produce FGF21 to regular mice after receiving a single excessive dose of alcohol. They also wanted to see what would happen if they gave regular mice an extra dose of FGF21 while intoxicated. Drunkenness here was defined as the loss ofrighting reflexor the mouse’s ability to straighten up after being placed on its back.
Mice in both groups broke down the alcohol in their systems at the same rate. But those without FGF21 stayed drunk longer than normal mice. And when the researchers gave the drunk mice additional FGF21, they sobered up an average of an hour and a half faster than the drunk control mice. The team’s work also indicates that the sobering effect of FGF21 comes from the way it activates a specific part of the brain that controls alertness, known as the noradrenergic nervous system.
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“We discovered that the liver is not only involved in alcohol metabolism, but also sends a hormonal signal to the brain to protect it against the harmful effects of intoxication, including loss of consciousness. and coordination”, shigher education author and biochemist Steven Kliewer told Gizmodo. “We have further shown that by increasing FGF21 concentrations even further per injection, we can significantly accelerate recovery from poisoning.”
Of course, these results are based on mice, so it’s possible that giving supplemental FGF21 to drunk humans might not provide the same dramatic benefit. But if further studies confirm the team’s findings, including in humans, then FGF21 could very well emerge as a fast-acting treatment for life-threatening poisoning. The hormone has already been studied in clinical trials for other potential uses, adding reassurance that it could be taken safely as a medicine.
“Our studies suggest that FGF21 may be useful in treating the many patients who present to the emergency room with acute alcohol intoxication,” Kliewer said. “Increasing alertness and arousal would be helpful both in preventing them from choking on their own vomit and in speeding up the assessment and treatment of other injuries.”
The team next plans to determine the exact pathways in the brain that FGF21 activates when it acts as a hormonal cold shower.