The fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States, alcohol abuse affects almost every organ in the body including the brain, eyes, heart, nerves, kidneys and other vital organs. Alcohol abuse has been linked to many mental disorders such as anxiety, schizophrenia and personality disorders. It has also been linked to genetics and studies have shown that identical twins have a higher concordance for drinking behavior than fraternal twins. Other causes for alcoholism include environmental factors including poor parent-child relationships and peer pressure.
Genes linked to alcoholism identified
In a study released in the November 2015 issue of Molecular Psychiatry, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin identified a library of genes that are directly linked to alcoholism. For decades, researchers have known that alcoholism is a hereditable disease, even though the location of the specific genetic loci has not been determined. So how did the researchers locate these genes?
Scientists compared the brains from alcoholics and nonalcoholics and analyzed the patterns of the genetic codes from the brain tissue of these individuals. In alcoholics, a specific set of genes was discovered that was absent in non-alcoholics. They were able to locate these genes by using a special high technology that focuses on the bioinformatics of RNA sequencing. RNA is genetic material that is made from the DNA, the building blocks of the genetic code. Locating these specific genes in alcoholics can hopefully lead to the development of drugs to target these genes and to prevent or cure alcoholism in these individuals. Currently, there are only three drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help treat alcoholism, and none of these drugs act on the genetic loci or actually work to end the addiction cycle.
What this finding could mean
“We hope our model can serve as a type of Wikipedia of alcohol dependence, helping to break down the complexities of alcohol dependence and becoming a reference for future research into drug therapies,” said Sean Farris, lead author of the study who is a postdoctoral fellow at Waggoner Center.
“The identification of genetic factors and networks in the brains of alcoholics gives drug researchers more information to work from and may one day allow for better screenings to evaluate a person’s risk factors for alcohol dependence, possibly even before the onset of heavy drinking,” according to a University of Texas press release.
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.