Scientists have identified a gene that plays a vital role in the development of alcoholism and alcohol dependence.
Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), variations in a gene, called neurofibromatosis type 1 (Nf1) are linked to alcohol-dependence risk and severity in patients.
AdvertisementThe research states that a specific signaling pathway associated with alcohol dependence is regulated by Nf1 - which was linked with excessive drinking in mice. The gene regulates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that lowers anxiety and increases feelings of relaxation.
Scientists have long sought a gene or genes that might be responsible for risk and severity of alcohol dependence. Vez Repunte-Canonigo, TSRI Staff Scientist, said, "Despite a significant genetic contribution to alcohol dependence, few risk genes have been identified to date, and their mechanisms of action are generally poorly understood."
While the new research showed that Nf1 is one of those rare risk genes, the researchers were not sure exactly how Nf1 affected the brain. The team suspected that Nf1 might be relevant to alcohol-related GABA activity in an area of the brain called the central amygdala, which is important in decision-making and stress - and addiction-related processes.
"As GABA release in the central amygdala has been shown to be critical in the transition from recreational drinking to alcohol dependence, we thought that Nf1 regulation of GABA release might be relevant to alcohol consumption," scientists said.