Int J Med Sci 2018; 15(7):682-688. doi:10.7150/ijms.25393 This issue

Research Paper

Chronic Alcohol Consumption Inhibits Autophagy and Promotes Apoptosis in the Liver

Mario Menk, Jan Adriaan Graw, Deniz Poyraz, Nadine Möbius, Claudia D. Spies, Clarissa von Haefen

Department of Anesthesiology and Operative Intensive Care Medicine (CCM/CVK), Charité - University Medicine Berlin, corporate member of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Berlin Institute of Health; Campus Virchow-Klinikum; Augustenburger Platz 1, 13353 Berlin, Germany

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Menk M, Graw JA, Poyraz D, Möbius N, Spies CD, von Haefen C. Chronic Alcohol Consumption Inhibits Autophagy and Promotes Apoptosis in the Liver. Int J Med Sci 2018; 15(7):682-688. doi:10.7150/ijms.25393. Available from

File import instruction


Background: Chronic alcohol consumption is a major cause of liver injury. However, the molecular mechanisms by which alcohol impairs hepatocellular function and induces cell death remain unclear. Macroautophagy (hereafter called 'autophagy') is a degradation pathway involved in the survival or death of cells during conditions of cellular stress. This study examines the effect of chronic alcohol consumption on hepatocellular autophagy in an animal model.

Methods: During a 12-week period male Wistar rats were fed a Lieber-DeCarli diet containing 5% alcohol (EtOH group; n=10), or an isocaloric diet (control group; n=10). Hepatic expression of key regulatory autophagy proteins (e.g. Beclin-1, ATG-3, ATG-5, p62/SQSTM1 and LC3) were detected by real-time polymerase chain reaction and Western blot analysis. Markers of cellular stress and apoptotic cell death (e.g. HO-1, caspase-3, PARP-1 and Bcl-2) were determined, and levels of reduced and oxidized glutathione were measured.

Results: Chronic alcohol consumption caused cellular and oxidative stress in the liver. Transcriptional and translational expression of Beclin-1 and ATG-5 was significantly impaired. The protein expression of LC3-I and LC3-II was significantly increased, while the ratio of LC3I/II remained unchanged in the EtOH group compared with controls. Hepatocellular expression of p62/SQSTM1 and markers of apoptotic cell death (such as cleaved caspase-3 and cleaved PARP-1) were significantly increased in the EtOH group indicating a disrupted autophagic flux and increased rate of apoptosis in the liver.

Conclusions: In this model, chronic alcohol consumption impaired hepatocellular autophagy and induced apoptotic cell death. It appears that changes in autophagy might contribute to alcohol-induced structural and functional hepatocellular injury.

Keywords: autophagy, chronic ethanol, alcohol, liver, apoptosis