Alcohol and Neural Lipids

  • E. Cazzaniga
  • A. Bulbarelli
  • M. Masserini
Reference work entry


Ethanol is a psychotropic drug, whose acute or chronic abuse may lead to physical dependency, cognitive dysfunctions, and brain damages. Many of the ethanol effects arise as a result of the alteration of membrane functions, which follows changes either in physicochemical properties or in the lipid composition or both of neural cells. In fact, in vitro studies have shown that ethanol affects membrane fluidity either directly, through incorporation in the bilayer, or indirectly, inducing changes in the overall unsaturated:saturated fatty acid ratio of membrane lipids. Indeed, ethanol induces more considerable changes of neural cell lipid composition; hippocampus, which plays a critical role in learning and memory, is especially sensitive. In fact, chronic exposure to ethanol in vivo and in vitro affects phospholipid and ganglioside pattern and, noteworthy, induces the formation of a unique phospholipid, phosphatidylethanol. Considering the role of phospholipids and gangliosides in neuronal development and in various signal transduction pathways, these changes may have significant implication in cognitive dysfunctions observed.

Studies in vitro indicate that alcohol enhances ganglioside biosynthesis by increasing the sphingosine recycling, an hypothetic mechanism of cell defence during alcoholic stress. Chronic ethanol consumption also stimulates changes in lipid organization associated with lipid peroxidation, a critical event in many neurological diseases and disorders, in particular the fetal alcohol syndrome, caused by ethanol exposure during prenatal and developmental period. Several diet components could have a preventing effect against ethanol-induced oxidative stress.

The present review focuses on all these subjects.


Ethanol Exposure Chronic Ethanol Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Ceramide Level Long Chain Base 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

List of Abbreviations:

β-amyloid peptide




docosahexaenoic acid


fetal alcohol syndrome














polyunsaturated fatty acids




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Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Cazzaniga
  • A. Bulbarelli
  • M. Masserini

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