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Strong immune response, polymorphisms in regulatory genes are linked to liver disease in heavy drinkers
Edward R. Winstead

Liver disease due to prolonged alcohol consumption occurs in only a minority of heavy drinkers. A new study reports that this minority may have an enhanced immune response to proteins that appear in the body during the metabolism of alcohol and are recognized by immune cells as invaders. A stronger immune response in some drinkers may be due in part to variation in three regulatory genes, according to the researchers.

Previous studies have found that the response of immune cells to proteins that are released into the bloodstream during the metabolism of ethanol may lead to liver damage. Among the heavy drinkers in the current study, a strong immune response following alcohol consumption was a risk factor for alcoholic liver disease. Possessing polymorphisms in three genes (CTLA-4, IL-10, IL-4) that regulate immune response increased the likelihood of an enhanced responsiveness among study subjects.

The current study included 267 patients with advanced alcoholic liver disease, 125 heavy drinkers with normal liver function, and 179 healthy controls. Christopher P. Day, of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom, presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Dallas, Texas. "Our study shows that individuals with genes favoring a strong immune response are those most at risk of advanced alcoholic liver disease," said Day in a statement to the press.

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