Ethanol’s Molecular Targets

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Sci. Signal.  15 Jul 2008:
Vol. 1, Issue 28, pp. re7
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.128re7

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Ethanol produces a wide variety of behavioral and physiological effects in the body, but exactly how it acts to produce these effects is still poorly understood. Although ethanol was long believed to act nonspecifically through the disordering of lipids in cell membranes, proteins are at the core of most current theories of its mechanisms of action. Although ethanol affects various biochemical processes such as neurotransmitter release, enzyme function, and ion channel kinetics, we are only beginning to understand the specific molecular sites to which ethanol molecules bind to produce these myriad effects. For most effects of ethanol characterized thus far, it is unknown whether the protein whose function is being studied actually binds ethanol, or if alcohol is instead binding to another protein that then indirectly affects the functioning of the protein being studied. In this Review, we describe criteria that should be considered when identifying alcohol binding sites and highlight a number of proteins for which there exists considerable molecular-level evidence for distinct ethanol binding sites.

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