Gene could raise alcoholism risk

Gene could raise alcoholism risk


Alcoholism could be in our DNA, experts have suggested after a gene linked to excessive drinking was discovered by British scientists. A single mutation in the gene can scramble chemical messages which inhibit drinking in the brain, compromising its ability to consume alcohol in moderation, researchers found.


Experiments on mice revealed that those with mutant copies of the Gabrb1 gene preferred drinking diluted alcohol over water, in contrast to those with normal genes. The study, published in the Nature Communications journal, showed that the mice would drink so much alcohol that within one hour they would be drunk and would have trouble controlling their movements.


Although some humans drink excessively for a variety of reasons, the findings suggest that some people may be more genetically at risk of alcoholism, researchers said. The scientists, from five UK universities, introduced several random mutations to the genetic code of mice before giving them free choice between water and diluted alcohol.


They found that those with either of two mutations in Gabrb1 chose to consume almost 85 per cent of their daily fluids from the alcohol solution, while healthy mice drank little or no alcohol. Those with the mutation were so keen to obtain the alcohol that they were willing to push a lever to obtain it, even over long periods.


Dr Quentin Anstee, Consultant Hepatologist at Newcastle University, joint lead author said: "It's amazing to think that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such profound effects on complex behaviours like alcohol consumption.


"We are continuing our work to establish whether the gene has a similar influence in humans, though we know that in people alcoholism is much more complicated as environmental factors come into play. But there is the real potential for this to guide development of better treatments for alcoholism in the future."


Professor Hugh Perry, Chair of the Medical Research Council's Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, added: "There's still a great deal we don't understand about how and why consumption progresses into addiction, but the results of this long-running project suggest that, in some individuals, there may be a genetic component.


"If further research confirms that a similar mechanism is present in humans, it could help us to identify those most at risk of developing an addiction and ensure they receive the most effective treatment."

By Nick Collins

The Telegraph, 28th November, 2013

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