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article imageGenetic factors linked to alcoholism

By Tim Sandle     Nov 19, 2012 in Science
New research indicates that genetic factors, as well as environmental and social reasons, can lead to some people becoming alcoholics.
Alcoholism is an important social disease, affecting all walks of life. the link between social deprivation and alcoholism, and personal choice, are well documented.
New research draws in a third dimension: genetics. According to a report in Alcohol Research:
"Genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of alcoholism. Whole-genome expression profiling has highlighted the importance of several genes that may contribute to alcohol abuse disorders."
The authors indicated that this not only means that some people have genes that can lead to dependency, but that a high consumption of alcohol can also alter the body's biochemistry leading to a greater dependency: "Both acute and chronic ethanol exposure can alter gene expression levels...[that] govern the behavioral consequences related to tolerance and dependence."
In undertaking the research, the scientists used the technique of epigenetics, which is the study of heritable changes in gene expression. The scientists compared regions of postmortem brains of 17 alcoholics and 15 non-alcoholics– they were not only looking for differences in gene expression, but also differences in gene networks and differences in epigenetic profiles.
The research was undertaken at the Department of Psychiatry and Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Illinois.
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