Scientists identify gene that influences alcohol consumption

Dec 05, 2007

A variant of a gene involved in communication among brain cells has a direct influence on alcohol consumption in mice, according to a new study by scientists supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Army.

Scientists do not know yet whether a similar gene variant, with a similar effect on alcohol consumption, exists in humans.

Known as Grm7, the gene encodes a receptor subtype that inhibits the release of glutamate and other neurotransmitter molecules that brain cells use to communicate with one another. Researchers identified a gene variant, or polymorphism, that reduces the abundance of Grm7 messenger RNA (mRNA) in brain tissue. mRNA is the molecular intermediate between a gene and its protein product. Mice that possess this gene variant drink more alcohol than do mice with higher brain levels of Grm7 mRNA. A report of the study appears as an online Article in Press in Genomics.

“This is a noteworthy contribution, particularly since identifying genes that predispose to alcohol-related behaviors is such an arduous task,” says NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D.

Scientists have long known that genes account for a significant proportion of the risk for alcoholism. However, the fact that there are multiple such genes that interact with each other and with multiple environmental factors to influence drinking behavior has hampered studies aimed at isolating individual genes.

“Controlling for this background noise -- the various gene-gene and gene-environment interactions -- presents considerable methodological challenges,” notes first author Csaba Vadasz, Ph.D., professor of psychiatric research in the department of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, and Director of the NeuroBehavioral Genetic Research Program at the Nathan Kline Institute in Orangeburg, N.Y.

To overcome these difficulties, Dr. Vadasz and colleagues applied a variety of genetic and analytic techniques to animals having nearly identical genetic background, but differing in their preference for alcohol, to identify a chromosomal region, and ultimately the Grm7 gene, associated with alcohol preference.

“Our findings support emerging evidence of the critical role that the brain’s glutamate pathways play in addiction,” says Dr. Vadasz. “While dopamine has traditionally been cast as a central actor in the neurochemistry of substance use and abuse, recent studies indicate that glutamate systems play an important role in reinforcement and addiction.”

If further studies show that a similar gene variant is relevant to alcohol problems in humans, the finding by Dr. Vadasz and colleagues may lead to new opportunities for developing drugs to treat alcohol dependence. Dr. Vadasz speculates that such drugs might be designed to control the level of the Grm7 gene product or modulate the activity of the gene product itself.

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Explore further: Genetic mutation found to cause ovarian insufficiency in women under 40

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

People finding their 'waze' to once-hidden streets

8 hours ago

When the people whose houses hug the narrow warren of streets paralleling the busiest urban freeway in America began to see bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling by their homes a year or so ago, they were baffled.

Identity theft victims face months of hassle

8 hours ago

As soon as Mark Kim found out his personal information was compromised in a data breach at Target last year, the 36-year-old tech worker signed up for the retailer's free credit monitoring offer so he would ...

Observers slam 'lackluster' Lima climate deal

8 hours ago

A carbon-curbing deal struck in Lima on Sunday was a watered-down compromise where national intransigence threatened the goal of a pact to save Earth's climate system, green groups said.

Your info has been hacked. Now what do you do?

8 hours ago

Criminals stole personal information from tens of millions of Americans in data breaches this past year. Of those affected, one in three may become victims of identity theft, according to research firm Javelin. ...

New Bond script stolen in Sony hack

8 hours ago

An "early version" of the screenplay for the new James Bond film was the latest victim of a massive hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, its producers said in a statement on their website Sunday.

Ag-tech could change how the world eats

14 hours ago

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world's newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming - the world's oldest industry - with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough ...

Recommended for you

Nationwide project paves way for clinical genetic diagnosis

Dec 16, 2014

The first nationwide project to genetically diagnose rare diseases will pave the way for translating advances in genomics into patient care in the NHS. Deciphering Developmental Disorders (DDD), a collaboration between the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.