British Journal of Nutrition

Metabolism and Metabolic Studies

Moderate alcohol consumption alters both leucocyte gene expression profiles and circulating proteins related to immune response and lipid metabolism in men

Michel M. Joostena1a2 c1, Marjan J. van Erka1, Linette Pellisa1, Renger F. Witkampa2 and Henk F. J. Hendriksa1

a1 Earth, Environment and Life Sciences, PO Box 360, 3700 AJ Zeist, The Netherlands

a2 Division of Human Nutrition, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands


Moderate alcohol consumption has various effects on immune and inflammatory processes, which could accumulatively modulate chronic disease risk. So far, no comprehensive, integrative profiling has been performed to investigate the effects of longer-term alcohol consumption. Therefore, we studied the effects of alcohol consumption on gene expression patterns using large-scale profiling of whole-genome transcriptomics in blood cells and on a number of proteins in blood. In a randomised, open-label, cross-over trial, twenty-four young, normal-weight men consumed 100 ml vodka (30 g alcohol) with 200 ml orange juice or only orange juice daily during dinner for 4 weeks. After each period, blood was sampled for measuring gene expression and selected proteins. Pathway analysis of 345 down-regulated and 455 up-regulated genes revealed effects of alcohol consumption on various signalling responses, immune processes and lipid metabolism. Among the signalling processes, the most prominently changed was glucocorticoid receptor signalling. A network on immune response showed a down-regulated NF-κB gene expression together with increased plasma adiponectin and decreased pro-inflammatory IL-1 receptor antagonist and IL-18, and acute-phase proteins ferritin and α1-antitrypsin concentrations (all P < 0·05) after alcohol consumption. Furthermore, a network of gene expression changes related to lipid metabolism was observed, with a central role for PPARα which was supported by increased HDL-cholesterol and several apo concentrations (all P < 0·05) after alcohol consumption. In conclusion, an integrated approach of profiling both genes and proteins in blood showed that 4 weeks of moderate alcohol consumption altered immune responses and lipid metabolism.

(Received December 14 2010)

(Revised September 26 2011)

(Accepted September 30 2011)

(Online publication December 06 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr M. M. Joosten, fax +31 30 694 49 28, email


Abbreviations: EtG, ethyl glucuronide; GCR, glucocorticoid receptor