This website was developed by undergraduate biology researchers working with Dr. Karen Bernd at Davidson College.


Why is ethanol (alcohol) a factor to study?

Many know that when alcohol is consumed the liver is responsible for 'clearing' alcohol from the system. However, many people don't realize that alcohol is an oxidant and the liver is the site of detoxification. Before detoxification, while alcohol is in the bloodstream, it comes in contact with every cell and oxidizes surface components. In lung cells interaction between ethanol and the lungs may be most readily recognized by the fumes on the breath of someone who has been drinking alcoholic beverages.

Lung cells undergo oxidative damage due to chronic ethanol ingestion (Guidot, 2000). The accumulation of damage might be expected to be seen as symptoms of lung problems and studies have shown that alcoholics have a higher prevalence of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). The cause(s) of ARDS are not known but the condition is characterized by reduced lung function that could be linked to other environmental factors such as prolonged ozone exposure or ethanol itself (Brown, 2001). Our cell culture approach uses amodel system where we can characterize the combined effects of ethanol and ozone under controlled conditions.

What is Ethanol?

ball and stick diagram of ethanol
Chemical structure of ethanol

Ethanol in the Body

Tables of BAC and its corresponding effects

Ethanol’s main target is the central nervous system, where it binds to GABA receptors to have a number of affects, based off the above concentrations (Chastain, 2006)

An individual's gender, age, body weight, ancestry and 'experience' with ethanol will all play a role in determining the extent to which physical abilities will be impaired. Note that, system-wide, alcohol is a depressant and any level of consumption can change coordination and reaction time. In addition, consumption of alcohol adds an oxidative stressor to the blood stream-- the extent to which this stress causes problems in lung cells is the focus of our research.

For more information, check out this interesting powerpoint presentation on the physiological effects of ethanol (Dr K Strang, UW-Madison)

Ethanol Metabolism /Oxidation

Flow chart of ethanol metabolism

The liver first uses alcohol dehydrogenase to metabolize ethanol into acetaldehyde and ROS (Ginter, 2009)

Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH2) processes aldehyde into acetate (acetic acid). This compound can be converted into Acetyl-CoA and be used in the citric acid cycle during cellular respiration (Streitweiser and Heathcock, 1976)

Ethanol, the Lung, and Oxidative Stress

Diagram of a lung alveoli cell
Model of Alveoli

Studies have shown that ethanol causes oxidative stress in lung cells through production of reactive oxygen species in the mitochondria (Guidot and Brown, 2000). Also ethanol can diminish the amount of glutathione available for antioxidant activity (Guidot and Brown, 2000).

Some college campuses are known as 'party schools' amd on others there is can be a culture of 'work hard, play hard' (often interpreted by students as 'party hard') We are interested in the effect that sustained or binge exposure to ethanol has on the function of lung cells. Using a cell culture model of chronic and acute ('binge') alcohol administration we study changes in cell function and damage caused by the oxidant ethanol and its metabolic byproducts

Send comments, concerns or questions to Dr. Karen Bernd