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Heavy Alcohol Consumption During Adolescence Compromises Hippocampal Development
Binge drinking is common during adolescence, a period of rapid brain development. In this study, researchers used adolescent nonhuman primates to examine the effects of long-term binge alcohol consumption on brain development. They found that an 11-month period of heavy binge alcohol consumption by nonhuman primates led to a significant and persistent reduction in neurogenesis – the birth and maturation of new neurons – in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory formation. Alcohol specifically interfered with the division and migration of hippocampal precursor cells. The lasting reduction in hippocampal neurogenesis was paralleled by an increase in neural degeneration. The findings demonstrate that hippocampal development during adolescence is highly vulnerable to alcohol, and suggests that alcohol-induced hippocampal degeneration is one of several factors that may increase the vulnerability to alcohol use disorders.