Targeting liver Aldehyde Dehydrogenase-2 Prevents Heavy but not Moderate Alcohol Drinking

Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), a key enzyme for detoxification the ethanol metabolite acetaldehyde, is recognized as a promising therapeutic target to treat alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Disulfiram, a potent ALDH2 inhibitor, is an approved drug for the treatment of AUD but has clinical limitations due to its side effects. This study aims to elucidate the relative contribution of different organs in acetaldehyde clearance through ALDH2 by using global- (Aldh2 -/-) and tissue-specific Aldh2-deficient mice, and to examine whether liver-specific ALDH2 inhibition can prevent alcohol-seeking behavior. Aldh2 -/- mice showed markedly higher acetaldehyde concentrations than wild-type (WT) mice after acute ethanol gavage. Acetaldehyde levels in hepatocyte-specific Aldh2 knockout (Aldh2 Hep-/-) mice were significantly higher than those in WT mice post gavage, but did not reach the levels observed in Aldh2 -/- mice. Energy expenditure and motility were dramatically dampened in Aldh2 -/- mice, but moderately decreased in Aldh2 Hep-/- mice compared to controls. In the 2-bottle paradigm and the drinking-in-the-dark model, Aldh2 -/- mice drank negligible volumes from ethanol-containing bottles, whereas Aldh2 Hep-/- mice showed reduced alcohol preference at high but not low alcohol concentrations. Glial cell- or neuron-specific Aldh2 deficiency did not affect voluntary alcohol consumption. Finally, specific liver Aldh2 knockdown via injection of shAldh2 markedly decreased alcohol preference. In conclusion, although the liver is the major organ responsible for acetaldehyde metabolism, a cumulative effect of ALDH2 from other organs likely also contributes to systemic acetaldehyde clearance. Liver-targeted ALDH2 inhibition can decrease heavy drinking without affecting moderate drinking, providing molecular basis for hepatic ALDH2 targeting/editing for the treatment of AUD.