Mutated gene possible cause for excessive drinking

Posted Nov 28, 2013 by Annapoorna Prabhu
Alcoholism has been deemed to be cause of 1 in 25 deaths worldwide. A study conducted by UK scientists say that a gene mutation could be linked to excessive drinking.
Alcoholism is a medical condition wherein the afflicted person faces an uncontrollable desire to consume alcohol despite the adverse effect it has on the person's home, career and overall well being.
Alcohol consumption is known to be beneficial when consumed in moderation. However, WHO (World Health Organization) statistics tell us that there are 140 million alcoholics worldwide, most of who are not treated. According to NHS (National Health Service) 1 in every 13 people in the UK is an alcoholic. In the US, 15% of the people are excessive drinkers, as stated by NIS (National Institute of Health). Alcoholism does not limit itself to men, women are in fact more adversely affected.
A consortium of UK scientists from 5 different universities viz. Imperial College London, Newcastle University, University of Sussex, UCL and University of Dundee – and the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, recently conducted a research to study the effect of alcoholism on mice. The research published in Nature Communications infers that mutations in the Gabrb1 gene, (responsible for changing alcohol preference in mice) significantly made the mice prefer alcohol over water, unlike their counterparts who had little or no alcohol. The mice with the mutated gene went to the extent of pushing levers for longer duration to obtain more alcohol. Their alcohol consumption amounted to 85% of the daily fluid intake
The joint lead author Dr Quentin Anstee states, It’s amazing to think that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such profound effects on complex behaviours like alcohol consumption.
We know that in people, alcoholism is much more complicated as environmental factors come into play. But there is the real potential for this to guide development of better treatments for alcoholism in the future."
The variant of the Gabrb1 gene activates the GABA and GABAA receptors that control the pleasure zone in the brain known as nucleus accumbens. With an increase in the signal from these receptors, there is an increased craving for alcohol consumption.
Professor Howard Thomas further adds, We know from previous human studies the GABA system is involved in controlling alcohol intake.
'Our studies in mice show a particular subunit of GABAA receptor has a significant effect and most importantly the existence of these mice has allowed our collaborative group to investigate the mechanism involved.
Alcoholism looms in our society today and not only affects the afflicted individual but also the family and the society around him. Through this long running study, scientists hope to determine if there is a similar process involved with humans as well. If yes, then this research would probably lead to the identification of such individuals and thereby an apt treatment for this chronic ailment.