This gene network may drive alcoholism

"We hope our model can serve as a type of Wikipedia of alcohol dependence, helping to break down the complexities of alcohol dependence and becoming a reference for future research into drug therapies," says Sean Farris. (Credit: Andrés Nieto Porras/Flickr)

A network of genes appears to work together to determine alcohol dependance, a finding that may lead to better treatments and even help doctors screen for alcoholism.

“This provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the gene sets that drive alcohol dependence,” says R. Adron Harris, director of the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at University of Texas at Austin.

“We now have a much clearer picture of where specific traits related to alcohol dependence overlap with specific expressions in genetic code.”

Scientists have known for some time that genetics play a role in alcoholism and addiction and that the tendency for dependence to be genetically linked is more complicated than the presence or absence of any one gene.

The new research, however, represents the first time scientists used revolutionary bioinformatics technology of RNA sequencing to identify the specific group of different genes that, expressed together, are highly correlated with alcohol dependence.

“We hope our model can serve as a type of Wikipedia of alcohol dependence, helping to break down the complexities of alcohol dependence and becoming a reference for future research into drug therapies,” says Sean Farris, a postdoctoral fellow at the Waggoner Center and lead author of the study.

Only three drugs have approval from the Food and Drug Administration to treat alcoholism, and none offers a silver bullet in helping people dependent on alcohol end their addiction.

The identification of genetic factors and networks in the brains of alcoholics gives drug researchers more information to work from and may one day allow for better screenings to evaluate a person’s risk factors for alcohol dependence, possibly even before the onset of heavy drinking.

Support for the research, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, came from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Source: University of Texas at Austin