The principal investigator of the larger project is Dr. Subhash Pandey in the Department of Psychiatry at U.I.C. The overall goal of that project is looking at an area of genetics—I’m a molecular biologist by training—called epigenetics. What this focuses on is the fact that your environment, diet, social interaction and everything affects your DNA—not causing mutations, but causing epigenetic changes outside of the genes. It’s modifying the structure of the chromatin and the bases, but not changing them. These changes are inheritable; when your cells divide, the new cells can have the same changes and when you have children, your children could inherit those. It’s looking at the epigenetic effects of alcohol in different parts of the brain. One big aspect is during withdrawal. It seems that withdrawal causes a lot of epigenetic changes, which contribute to the adverse effects: depression, anxiety, addition. The benefit is that there are drugs that are F.D.A. approved that can prevent that from happening. So the overall goal is to determine how alcohol causes epigenetic changes. And if we treat the animals, cells, or eventually people, with inhibitors, can we prevent that?
So in the context of Alzheimer’s disease, what we haven’t published but are also working on is that we saw these changes in these genes, which affect the clearance of beta-amyloid, so how does that happen? The idea is that we’re causing these epigenetic changes and that’s one of the next stages. We know alcohol is doing it, but how is it doing it? So that’s kind of the broad context of this whole program project.