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Drunk Bugs

– the effects of alcohol on the gut microbiome

by Veronica Peterson, PhD Student, Gut-Brain-Microbiota Axis, APC Microbiome Institute


APC scientists have teamed up with Andrew Holmes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Bethesda, MD, USA to investigate the link between gut microbiota and alcohol addiction. Preliminary research has just been published online in Behavioural Brain Research.

Alcohol addiction is one of the most common forms of drug addiction. Excessive consumption of alcohol diminishes intestinal barrier function, with increased intestinal permeability exacerbating inflammation and damage to the liver. Increased intestinal permeability and systemic inflammation are also linked to anxiety and depression, disorders commonly comorbid with drug addiction. Current research seeks to elucidate how drugs of abuse alter the gut microbiome, and in turn how these alterations in microbiota propagate the cycle of addiction.

If drugs do not enter the gastrointestinal tract, can they still alter gut microbiota? In order to understand how drugs of abuse can alter the gut microbiota, the route of administration must be investigated. To answer this, a collaboration was formed with Andrew Holmes at The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism who uses a common animal model of alcohol addiction, chronic intermittent vapour alcohol exposure (CIE). This method is widely used to investigate addiction because it closely resembles the patterns and levels of alcohol consumption seen in  human in alcohol addiction.

This research confirmed that indeed alcohol can alter gut microbiota composition, regardless of administration route. Furthermore, changes in microbiota composition align with previous research indicative of inflammation and psychological stress. This work lays the foundation for further research into gut microbiota and addiction.

I am a PhD student from the USA funded through the APC Microbiome Institute under the supervision of John Cryan and Ted Dinan and the first author on this publication. My major research interest is understanding the effects of gut microbiota on brain and behaviour, and how this may influence addictive behaviours.


Peterson, V. L., Jury, N. J., Cabrera-Rubio, R., Draper, L. A., Crispie, F. Cotter, P. D., Dinan, T. G., Holmes, A., & Cryan J. F. (2017). Drunk Bugs: Chronic Vapour Alcohol Exposure Induces Marked Changes in the Gut Microbiome in Mice. Behavioural Brain Research, [Epub ahead of print].

Photo (left to right): Prof John Cryan,APC Microbiome Institute, Dr Andrew Holmes NIH and Dr Veronica Peterson, APC Microbiome Institute.