Chronic alcohol consumption induces cytochrome P450IIE1, enabling habitual abusers to consume far greater quantities of alcohol than normal subjects. This pathway of metabolism leads to the production of free radical species, which cause tissue damage through peroxidation of cell membranes. Groups of Wistar rats of equal male: female ratio (n = 24) were fed alcohol by gavage twice daily to achieve a dosage of 15 g/kg body weight. Mean peak blood alcohol concentrations of 186 mg% were produced in males and 156 mg% in females. The animals were allowed free access to standard laboratory chow and water. Control animals were pair-fed to the alcoholic group and fed isocaloric glucose by gavage. Groups of animals were killed between 9 and 11 am on consecutive mornings, after nocturnal feeding, since it has previously been shown that fasting rapidly depletes hepatic glutathione concentrations. Hepatic glutathione was measured by a spectrophotometric enzymatic recycling procedure. As a marker of lipid peroxidation hepatic malonaldehyde (MDA) was measured by high performance liquid chromatography. Hepatic MDA was increased in the alcoholic group (p < 0.001), as was total hepatic glutathione (p < 0.0001). Plasma concentrations of alpha-tocopherol were increased in the alcoholic group, but ascorbic acid and superoxide dismutase values were not affected. No sex differences were detected. The increased MDA production in the alcohol group is strong evidence that lipid peroxidation is a mechanism of alcoholic tissue damage. The rise in hepatic glutathione may be an adaptive response to free radical production that protects the rat against tissue damage.
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