Could hormone injection help you ‘sober up’?

Scientists are exploring whether FGF21 could help people to sober up (File picture)  (PA Archive)
Scientists are exploring whether FGF21 could help people to sober up (File picture) (PA Archive)

Scientists are exploring whether a hormone injection could help people to sober up after drinking alcohol.

Researchers found that “drunk” mice injected with fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) were protected against ethanol-induced loss of balance and mobility.

FGF21 is induced in the liver and helps to process certain foods, including alcohol. Previous studies have shown that alcohol, which contains ethanol, is the most potent inducer of FGF21 production in both mice and humans.

For the study, scientists compared the outcomes of mice bred without the ability to produce FGF21 to regular mice after being given a large dose of alcohol.

They found that mice with lower natural levels of the hormone took longer to recover from intoxication than others.

While mice in both groups broke down alcohol in their systems at the same rate, those without FGF21 stayed drunk for longer than normal mice.

FGF21 was found to “dramatically accelerate” recovery from intoxication by activating a specific part of the brain that controls alertness.

Researchers said that the administration of the hormone “reduced the time needed for mice to recover from ethanol-induced unconsciousness and lack of muscle coordination”.

Dr Steven Kliewer, of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and lead author of the study, said the hormone could potentially be used to treat acute alcohol poisoning in humans.

“Increasing alertness and wakefulness would be helpful both for avoiding the need for intubation (unconscious patients can choke to death on their vomit) and for speeding up evaluation and treatment of other concurrent injuries.

“We’ve discovered that the liver is not only involved in metabolising alcohol but that it also sends a hormonal signal to the brain to protect against the harmful effects of intoxication, including both loss of consciousness and coordination.”

Previous studies have shown that FGF21 induces water drinking to prevent dehydration and protects against alcohol-induced liver injury.

Co-author Dr David Mangelsdorf said: "Our studies reveal the brain is the major site of action for FGF21’s effects.

“We are now exploring in greater depth the neuronal pathways by which FGF21 exerts its sobering effect.”

The study was published in Cell Metabolism on Tuesday.