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Release: July 26, 1999

UI researchers receive grant to study how alcohol affects neurons

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Health Care researchers have received a five-year grant for more than $1.3 million from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to study how alcohol affects the survival of neurons, the fundamental unit of the nervous system.

The grant was effective July 1. The NIAAA is one of the 18 institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health.

Michael W. Miller, Ph.D., UI professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, and a career research scientist at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, will lead the study, which focuses on nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that helps keep neurons alive. When NGF is blocked by alcohol, neuronal cells die abnormally.

"We will look at how alcohol affects the mechanisms of NGF-mediated activity," Miller said.

Using cells cultures and animal models, the research team hopes to identify which genes are turned on and off respectively by NGF and alcohol.

"Our findings may be useful in developing ways to manipulate and antagonize the effects of alcohol," Miller said.

Aside from causing fetal alcohol syndrome, alcoholism is known to contribute to problems such as dementia, liver disease, heart disease, pancreatitis and certain forms of cancer.

The NIAAA supports and conducts biomedical and behavioral research on the causes, consequences, treatment and prevention of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems. The institute also helps lead national efforts to reduce the severe and often fatal consequences of these problems.