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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alcohol Dependence Gene Linked to GABA Neurotransmitter

Understanding addiction is challenging and there are many, some quite convincing, arguments as to why some people end up becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol while others do not. Science has come a long way regarding addiction, a disease that was once viewed as a moral shortcoming and a lack of willpower, is now looked at in a whole different light. No matter what road one takes down the path to addiction, scientists in the medical community have deemed addiction an incurable disease that can be kept in remission with daily maintenance.

Ever since the mapping of the human genome, scientists have painstaking sought to find the genetic marker of addiction. A new study conducted at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) seems to have found some answers to the genetic connection with addiction. Research indicates that variations in the human version of the Nf1 gene are linked to alcohol-dependence risk and severity in patients. The Nf1 gene regulates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that lowers anxiety and increases relaxation feelings.

"This novel and seminal study provides insights into the cellular mechanisms of alcohol dependence," said TSRI Associate Professor Marisa Roberto, a co-author of the paper. "Importantly, the study also offers a correlation between rodent and human data."

The TSRI research team views the new findings as "pieces to the puzzle." The mysteries of addiction are slowly becoming understandable to scientists who have been working on this problem for decades.

"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," said TSRI Staff Scientist Vez Repunte-Canonigo, co-first author of the paper with TSRI Research Associate Melissa Herman.

The Nf1 gene is considered to be a rare risk gene, but researchers weren't sure exactly how Nf1 affected the brain. "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," said Herman.

The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Source: Science Daily

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