Background: Although scientists have used animal models for years to study the effects of ethanol (EtOH) ingestion on humans, the compounding effect of cigarette smoking has been virtually ignored. Because 80 to 95% of human alcoholics smoke, it is imperative to consider the added effects of smoking when trying to determine the consequences of excessive alcohol ingestion. We therefore have developed a rat model for studying the separate and combined results of smoking and drinking on human health.
Methods: Male Sprague-Dawley rats were exposed daily for 12 weeks in whole-body chambers to cigarette smoke (smoke-exposed) or room air (sham-exposed). During the final 5 weeks of exposure, the rats were fed liquid diets that contained 0, 16, 26, or 36% EtOH calories. Smoke exposure was quantified by measurement of carboxyhemoglobin, nicotine, and cotinine levels. Body weights, food consumption, blood EtOH concentrations, and various assessments of liver damage and function also were followed.
Results: Smoke exposure in this rat model approximates that of a moderate to heavy human smoker. Smoke-exposed rats weighed significantly less and ate less food than sham-exposed controls, but both groups ingested equivalent amounts of EtOH for their body weights and had comparable blood EtOH levels. Liver aspartate and alanine aminotransferase levels remained normal. There was an EtOH-induced decrease in asialoglycoprotein receptor binding, but it was not exacerbated by smoke exposure. Alterations in blood cholesterol levels reflected what has been reported for humans, rising with increasing EtOH ingestion and decreasing with smoke exposure.
Conclusion: Our rat model is relevant to what transpires in the vast majority of alcoholics. Both ethanol ingestion and smoke exposure can be manipulated to mimic light to moderate to heavy levels, making it appropriate for studying the separate and combined biomedical consequences of alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking.