University HealthCare Alliance

December 12, 2019

Alcohol, ‘Asian glow’ mutation may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, study finds

In the presence of alcohol, a defective version of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 gene in human cell cultures and mice, leads to biochemical changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

A common mutation in a key enzyme involved in alcohol metabolism increases damage in cells from patients with Alzheimer’s disease and in mice, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine

This mutation in aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, or ALDH2, is associated with facial redness following alcohol consumption. It causes the activity of the enzyme to be greatly reduced, resulting in the buildup of acetaldehyde, a toxic product of alcohol metabolism. The body responds to the presence of the toxin with skin flushing and inflammation. The mutation is prevalent in the East Asian population. The flushing response to alcohol among people who carry the mutation is sometimes called “Asian glow.”

The mutation occurs in about 560 million people, or about 8% of the world’s population, said Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, professor of chemical and systems biology. Understanding the relationship of alcohol and genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease will have broad consequences, she said, since a large group of people may unknowingly be harming their future health by regularly consuming alcohol.

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