The National Institutes of Health this week announced that it has discovered a gene link in rats selectively bred to prefer alcohol. Researchers believe the new findings could eventually help reveal the genetic component of alcoholism in humans.
The study's findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study looked at special breeds of rats, some bred to prefer alcohol and others bred to avoid it. Using genome sequencing, the researchers found a "dysfunctional" gene in the alcohol-preferring rats related to brain signaling. To test whether this was related to alcohol preference researchers then gave rats medication to block that same gene. The found that blocking the gene increased alcohol consumption in rats.
“We’ve long known that genes play an important role in alcoholism,” said Dr. David Goldman, chief of the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism' (NIAAA) neurogenetics lab. “However, the genes and genetic variants that cause alcoholism have remained largely unknown. This first discovery of a gene accounting for alcohol preference in a mammalian model illustrates that genomic analysis of a model organism is a powerful approach for a complex disease such as alcoholism.”
Goldman and his colleagues hope that the research could lead to alcoholism-treating drugs for humans. The technique of comparing rat strains with different alcohol preferences in particular could lead to identifying more genetic links to alcoholism in the near future.
“I commend Dr. Goldman and his NIAAA colleagues on this important study,” said Dr. Ting-Kai Li, former NIAAA director and a psychiatry professor at the Duke University School of Medicine. “It is gratifying to see that the alcohol-preferring/non-preferring model continues to provide a foundation for advancing the search for solutions to alcohol problems.”