Alcoholism and genetics

My father and my grandfathers were alcoholics. Luckily, I escaped that fate. I do, however, have an addiction and that is to food. I constantly struggle with the urge to eat and overeat.

That's why a news release from the National Institutes of Health interested me today.

Researchers at the Molecular Neurobiology Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, have completed the most comprehensive scan of the human genome to date linked to the ongoing efforts to identify people most at risk for developing alcoholism. This study represents the first time the new genomic technology has been used to comprehensively identify genes linked to substance abuse. The study can be viewed online and will be published in the December 2006 issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B (Neuropsychiatric Genetics).

NIDA researchers found genetic variations clustered around 51 defined chromosomal regions that may play roles in alcohol addiction. The candidate genes are involved in many key activities, including cell-to-cell communication, control of protein synthesis, regulation of development, and cell-to-cell interactions. For example, one gene implicated in this study — the AIP1 gene — is a known disease-related gene expressed primarily in the brain, where it helps brain cells set up and maintain contacts with the appropriate neighboring cells. Many of the nominated genes have been previously identified in other addiction research, providing support to the idea that common genetic variants are involved in human vulnerability to substance abuse.

Genome is the total genetic information of a particular organism and genetic variation is used to describe differences in the sequence of DNA among individuals. Genetic variation plays a role in whether a person has a higher or lower risk for getting particular diseases.

So, there are potentially many different factors--some of them genetic--that may be involved in addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, and--some studies say--dangerous behavior.

Marie Godfrey, PhD




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