In men, NRXN3 - a rare gene may be responsible for impulsivity and alcohol problems, suggests study.
Being impulsive can lead us to say things we regret, buy things we really don't need, engage in behaviours that are risky and even develop troublesome addictions.
The research, led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor of psychology Scott Stoltenberg, found links between impulsivity and a rarely researched gene called NRXN3.
The gene plays an important role in brain development and in how neurons function.
The newly discovered connection, which was more prevalent among men than women in the study, may help explain certain inclinations toward alcohol or drug dependence, Stoltenberg said.
"Impulsivity is an important underlying mechanism in addiction. Our finding that NRXN3 is part of the causal pathway toward addiction is an important step in identifying the underlying genetic architecture of this key personality trait," Stoltenberg stated.
For the study, researchers measured impulsivity levels in nearly 450 participants - 65 percent women, 35 percent men - via a wide range of tests. Then, they compared those results with DNA samples from each participant.
They found that impulsivity was significantly higher in those who regularly used tobacco or who had alcohol or drug problems.
The results, interestingly, also came down along gender lines. In men, two connections clearly emerged, first, between a particular form of the NRXN3 gene and attentional impulsivity, and second, between another NRXN3 variant and alcohol problems.
The connections for women, meanwhile, were much weaker.
Stoltenberg said the gender-specific results are a rich area for further study.
"We can't really say what causes these patterns of association to be different in men and women. But our findings will be critical as we continue to improve our understanding of the pathways from specific genes to health-risk behaviours," he added.