A shot from a hormone already in our bodies is sobering up passed-out mice at UT Southwestern. Researchers have isolated a liver hormone enabling mice to regain consciousness and coordination faster than over-served mice who didn’t receive the injection.
The UTSW study, recently published in Cell Metabolism, is led by Dr. David Mangesldorf, chair and professor of pharmacology and biology professor, Steven Kilewer, professor of molecular biology and pharmacology, and Mihwa Choi, an instructor in pharmacology. The researchers hope their work will translate to humans and be able to reverse the effects of acute alcohol intoxication, which results in one million emergency room visits each year in the U.S.
Increasing fluids, the hair of the dog, and supplements are all currently used to speed up the recovery process after consuming too much alcohol. The ancient Greeks believed that if they drank liquids containing amethyst, they could prevent drunkenness. Traditional Chinese medicine says that the vine kudzu (which has invaded the Southeast U.S. to devastating results) can be consumed to reduce the effects of intoxication. But most of these cures focus more on the aftereffects of alcohol poisoning than acute intoxication. Physically removing the alcohol from the system via a stomach pump is the only way to have an immediate impact. Otherwise, one needs to wait it out.
The team identified a hormone called FGF21 that causes intoxicated mice to avoid alcohol and encourages them to drink water and avoid dehydration. Injecting the hormone can also prevent liver injury caused by alcohol consumption. When researchers genetically engineered mice that didn’t have the gene that created naturally occurring hormones, they found those mice took longer than their unmodified peers to recover from alcohol overconsumption.
In the latest study, the mice mimicked a binge drinking session until they were unconscious. The mice were split into two groups, and the half injected with the hormone regained consciousness and stood upright in half the time of the other group. When the mice drank enough alcohol to impair them but not render them unconscious, the mice who received the treatment recovered coordination much faster than the control group.
Both groups of mice tested the same blood alcohol content, but researchers found that the hormone impacted neurons that promote wakefulness. However, the treatment did not significantly affect other sedatives tested on the mice.
The hormone has already been tested in clinical trials to see its impact on other conditions like diabetes, weight loss, and fatty liver disease and has a strong safety profile. Mangesldorf says the hope is that the hormone can be utilized in a treatment for patients in emergency rooms, college campuses, or other locations to reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning just as Narcan is used with opioid overdoses.
“We don’t want to send the signal that it’s OK to get drunk because a drug can undo it,” Kliewer said via release. “But FGF21 may eventually be able to prevent some negative consequences for people incapacitated from alcohol.”
Read the study here.