Alcohol abuse causes 79,000 deaths stemming from severe organ damage in the United States every year. Clinical manifestations of long-term alcohol abuse on the cardiac muscle include defective contractility with the development of dilated cardiomyopathy and low-output heart failure; which has poor prognosis with less than 25% survival for more than three years. In contrast, low alcohol consumption has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, however the mechanism of this phenomenon remains elusive. The aim of this study was to determine the significance of apoptosis as a mediating factor in cardiac function following chronic high alcohol versus low alcohol exposure. Adult rats were provided 5 mM (low alcohol), 100 mM (high alcohol) or pair-fed non-alcohol controls for 4–5 months. The hearts were dissected, sectioned and stained with cresyl violet or immunohistochemically for caspase-3, a putative marker for apoptosis. Cardiomyocytes were isolated to determine the effects of alcohol exposure on cell contraction and relaxation. High alcohol animals displayed a marked thinning of the left ventricular wall combined with elevated caspase-3 activity and decreased contractility. In contrast, low alcohol was associated with increased contractility and decreased apoptosis suggesting an overall protective mechanism induced by low levels of alcohol exposure.
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