Sunday, August 27, 2006

Genes can predict your risk of developing alcoholism

Washington, Aug 27: Scientists have revealed that with the help of genomic technology they can now classify a person who is at the risk of developing alcoholism.

The researchers at the Molecular Neurobiology Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health conducted a comprehensive scan of the human genome and can now identify the genes linked to substance abuse.

A Genome refers to the total genetic information of a particular organism. The normal human genome consists of about 3 billion base pairs of DNA in each set of chromosomes from one parent.

"Tools such as pooled data genome scanning give us a completely new way of looking at complex biological processes, such as addiction. The ability to pinpoint genes in the human genome responsible for disease has the potential to revolutionize our ability to treat and even prevent diseases," says Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health.

"Previous studies established that alcoholism runs in families, but this research has given us the most extensive catalogue yet of the genetic variations that may contribute to the hereditary nature of this disease. We now have new tools that will allow us to better understand the physiological foundation of addiction," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow.

The biologists identified the genetic variations clustered around 51 defined chromosomal regions that could trigger alcohol addiction.

The term "genetic variation" is used to describe differences in the sequence of DNA among individuals. It plays determines whether a person has a higher or lower risk for getting a particular diseases.

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.

"The observations from this study provide a graphic display of the close relationships between genetic vulnerability to alcoholism and genetic vulnerability to other addictions. Ongoing and future studies will help us to identify how the variations in these candidate genes contribute to differences in addiction vulnerability," said Dr George Uhl a lead researcher on the study.

"We know that vulnerabilities to substance abuse involve complex traits with strong genetic influences. Finding ways to identify who is most physiologically vulnerable to addiction will be a tremendous step towards more effective prevention and treatment approaches," adds Volkow.

The study is published in the online version of the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B (Neuropsychiatric Genetics).

Under the Influence: A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism