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Scientists Find Genetic Mutation that Ups Alcoholism Risk

Nov 28, 2013 08:22 AM EST
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U.K. Researchers have found a genetic mutation that can lead to alcoholism.

Their study showed that mutation in the gene Gabrb1 made mice prefer booze instead of water. These mice were also willing to do more work to obtain alcohol than other mice that didn't have the mutation.

The study was conducted by researchers at Imperial College London and their colleagues from University of Sussex, UCL, Newcastle University, and University of Dundee - and the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit at Harwell.

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

For the study, led by Professor Howard Thomas from Imperial College Londo, experts created subtle modifications along the mice genome. They then tested the effects of these mutations on mice' behaviour towards alcohol.

The effect of mutation in the Gabrb1 was so strong that mice carrying either of the two alterations preferred alcohol over water. The scientists gave mice a ten percent alcohol solution, which is similar to alcohol content in wine.

Gabrb1 codes for a component of the GABAA receptor, which responds to a chemical called GABA that carries messages between neurons.  Researchers found that the nucleus accumbens.- a brain region regulating pleasure- was highly affected by these mutations.

Researchers are now trying to find whether the genetic mutation causes alcoholism in humans. Alcoholism is a serious disorder that includes symptoms like craving, physical dependence and inability to control alcohol intake. People who develop alcoholism often find it difficult to quit drinking even if it causes physical problems. These people need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get 'high'.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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