Intracellular proteolytic systems in alcohol-induced tissue injury

Terrence M. Donohue, Natalia A. Osna

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The body constantly produces proteins and degrades proteins that are no longer needed or are defective. The process of protein breakdown, called proteolysis, is essential to cell survival. Numerous proteolytic systems exist in mammalian cells, the most important of which are the lysosomes, the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, and enzymes called calpains. Lysosomes are small cell components that contain specific enzymes (i.e., proteases) which break down proteins. Alcohol interferes with the formation and activity of lysosomes and thus may contribute to protein accumulation in the liver, which can have harmful effects on that organ. In the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway, proteins that are to be degraded are first marked by the addition of ubiquitin molecules and then broken down by large protein complexes called proteasomes. Alcohol impairs this proteolytic system through several mechanisms, possibly leading to inflammation and even cell death. Calpains are proteases that are involved in several physiological processes, including the breakdown of proteins that give cells their shape and stability. In contrast to the lysosomal and ubiquitin-proteasome systems, calpains in brain cells are activated by alcohol, to potentially detrimental effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-324
Number of pages8
JournalAlcohol Research and Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003


  • AODR (alcohol and other drug related) injury
  • Alcohol dehydrogenases
  • Apoptosis
  • Biochemical reaction property
  • Cytochrome P450 2E1
  • Cytolysis
  • Ethanol metabolism
  • Inflammation
  • Injury
  • Protease inhibitors
  • Protein metabolism disorder
  • Proteolysis
  • Tissue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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