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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Genetic Pathways and Genes Associated with Levels of Alcohol Consumption

A new study has given scientists a better understanding of the genetics of alcoholism. The amount you drink does not necessarily mean you have the genes for alcoholism, in fact there are many different genes operating; how much a person drinks is associated with one set of genes and another set are responsible for predisposition towards alcohol dependence. On the other hand, an alcoholic can drink very little and still have the predisposition towards the disease. It's common to identify alcoholics as binge drinkers, but, that is not always the case, there are many who carry the gene for alcoholism who are not heavy drinkers. Medical News Today reported, "BMC Biology's research was published in the open access journal, pinpoints genetic pathways and genes associated with levels of alcohol consumption but not with alcohol dependence in rats and humans".

The research team was led by Boris Tabakoff, Laura Saba, and Paula Hoffman from the University of Colorado, Denver, USA. Rats where used to identify the genetic pathways affecting drinking behavior. It was determined that the pleasure and reward pathways in the brain and the genetic systems that control satiety and appetite for food were linked to the rats drinking behavior. Using two male study groups, one from Montreal and the other from Sydney, human genes were directly compared with rat genes involved in these alcohol-associated pathways to identify common genetic factors linked to alcohol use across species.

According to Tabakoff, "We know that high levels of alcohol consumption can increase the risk of becoming alcohol dependent in those who have a genetic make up that predisposes to dependence. This is a case of interaction between genes and environment. Indeed, in our study we found that, higher alcohol consumption in humans was positively correlated with alcohol dependence. However, because different sets of genes seem to influence the level of alcohol consumption, as opposed to propensity for alcohol dependence, we are confronted with great variation in humans. Individuals with a set of genes that predisposes them to drink moderate amounts of alcohol may still have the genetic predisposition to lose control over their drinking behavior, and perhaps become alcohol dependent. Conversely, individuals with a genetic predisposition to drink high amounts of alcohol may not have the genes that predispose them to become dependent."

Each advancement in the study of alcohol genetics brings us closer to understanding how we can better manage it. There is much still not understood regarding the variation found in humans and why people drink the way they do. Fortunately, there are many researchers working very hard to paint a clearer picture of alcoholism and the disease of addiction.

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