does alcohol affect cell membranes?
At one time, scientists believed
that alcohol "dissolved" into the membrane interior
and made the carbon chains of the lipids more fluid. (It was
thought to be like converting hard butter into soft margarine.)
When scientists tested this idea on fish,
they realized that the "melted butter" idea could
not explain intoxication. Warming fish by a few degrees can
cause the same degree of lipid "melting", but the
fish do NOT get intoxicated.
what causes intoxication?
The answer can be answered in part from the chemistry of alcohol
(CH3CHOH). The carbon part of the molecule makes
it attracted to the carbon tails of the lipids in cell membranes.
But the OH group of alcohol makes it attracted to water.
Thus, you might expect that these influences
would cause alcohol to orient itself in a membrane so that the
carbon part of the molecule inserts itself into the membrane
interior (where the lipid carbon tails are) and the OH part
of the molecule is out near the surface, where the water is.
This idea has been recently confirmed by the author of Cells
Are Us and his colleagues here
at Texas A&M.