Functional biomarkers for the acute effects of alcohol on the central nervous system in healthy volunteers


  • This review was produced on behalf of the Biomarker Working Group of the German Association for Applied Human Pharmacology (Arbeitsgemeinschaft für angewandte Humanpharmakologie; AGAH).

Mr Remco W. M. Zoethout MD, Centre for Human Drug Research, Zernikedreef 10, 2333 CL Leiden, the Netherlands. Tel.: +31 7 1524 6400 Fax: +31 7 1524 6499 E-mail:


The central nervous system (CNS) effects of acute alcohol administration have been frequently assessed. Such studies often use a wide range of methods to study each of these effects. Unfortunately, the sensitivity of these tests has not completely been ascertained. A literature search was performed to recognize the most useful tests (or biomarkers) for identifying the acute CNS effects of alcohol in healthy volunteers. All tests were grouped in clusters and functional domains. Afterwards, the effect of alcohol administration on these tests was scored as improvement, impairment or as no effect. Furthermore, dose–response relationships were established. A total number of 218 studies, describing 342 different tests (or test variants) were evaluated. Alcohol affected a wide range of CNS domains. Divided attention, focused attention, visuo-motor control and scales of feeling high and of subjective drug effects were identified as the most sensitive functional biomarkers for the acute CNS effects of alcohol. The large number of CNS tests that are used to determine the effects of alcohol interferes with the identification of the most sensitive ones and of drug–response relationships. Our results may be helpful in selecting rational biomarkers for studies investigating the acute CNS effects of alcohol or for future alcohol- interaction studies.