Young alcohol binge drinkers have elevated blood endotoxin, peripheral inflammation and low cortisol levels: neuropsychological correlations in women

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Abstract

Alcohol binge drinking is a pattern of heavy alcohol consumption that is increasingly practiced by adolescents and young adults. Evidence indicates that alcohol binges induce peripheral inflammation and an exacerbated neuroimmune response that may participate in alcohol-induced cognitive/behavioral dysfunctions. Here, we recruited 20-year-old male and female university students who were identified as binge drinkers for at least 2 years. Compared with controls, young alcohol binge drinkers had elevated levels of blood endotoxin and upregulated markers of the toll-like receptor 4/NF-κB inflammatory pathway in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, together with pro-inflammatory cytokine/chemokine release, oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation. These changes positively correlate with the estimated blood alcohol levels achieved during alcohol binge intoxication and negatively correlate with the time elapsed from the last alcohol consumption. The immune/inflammatory changes were more prominent in female drinkers, who showed elevated levels of alcohol danger-associated molecules, such as high mobility group box 1, indicating that there are sex-related differences in the peripheral inflammatory response to alcohol. In contrast, cortisol levels were decreased in alcohol binge drinkers. Finally, higher levels of inflammatory markers, mainly monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, as well as LPS, high mobility group box 1, toll-like receptor 4, IL-6 and ciclooxygenase-2, correlated with worse scores on episodic memory and executive functioning tasks in female binge drinkers but not in male binge drinkers. These results emphasize possible risky consequences of alcohol use in binge episodes during young adulthood and call attention to sex-related differences in the alcohol-induced immune/inflammatory and neurocognitive responses.

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