Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Another Drink?

Alcohol degradation of liver cell mitochondria underlies impairing liver function with sustained alcohol use

15 July 2022

Another Drink?

It’s common knowledge that alcohol damages the liver, and these days scientists have a good idea how that damage occurs. They even know what tips the balance from reversible liver injury, which might happen after a night of binge drinking, to chronic liver disease, which might occur if a person consistently drinks heavily. The liver cells’ power-producing mitochondria (red) bear the brunt of alcohol-induced damage – a result of the toxins produced when alcohol is metabolised. Notice the extent of mitochondrial damage (green) in the liver of an alcohol-fed mouse (right) compared with that of a healthy mouse (left). After a short bout of drinking, damaged mitochondria are degraded and replaced with healthy ones. The problem with sustained alcohol use, however, is that the continuous mitochondrial degradation depletes the cell of energy, impairing various functions and causing a cascade of injury, inflammation and fibrosis that eventually results in full-blown liver disease.

Written by Ruth Williams

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