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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Genetics Can Lead to Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a major problem amongst teenagers and young adults, a problem that sends thousands to the emergency room every year and can cause loss of life. Those who binge drink are not necessarily alcoholics, but the behavior can certainly lead to alcoholism. A new study conducted by scientists on mice and teenage boys in London found a genetic variation that may play a role in binge drinking in teenagers, Reuters reports.

“People seek out situations which fulfill their sense of reward and make them happy, so if your brain is wired to find alcohol rewarding, you will seek it out,” lead researcher Professor Gunter Schumann of King’s College Institute of Psychiatry in London said in a news release.

The gene called RASGRF-2 was found by researchers, they determined that it is important in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release the brain chemical dopamine, causing a feeling of reward. Previous studies conducted believed that RASGRF-2 increased the risk for alcohol abuse, but the mechanism was unclear, the article notes.

The RASGRF-2 gene was removed from the mice by the researchers in order to see how they would react to alcohol. Without the gene they found it to significantly reduce alcohol-seeking behavior. When the mice consumed alcohol, there was a reduction in the release of dopamine in the brain, limiting the sense of reward.

The brains of 663 teenage boys were scanned during the course of the study. When the boys were expecting a reward in a mental test, those with genetic variations in the RASGRF-2 gene had more activity in the brain involved in dopamine release. This suggests that people with the genetic variation release more dopamine when they anticipate a reward.

The researchers re-tested the boys two years later; many of the boys had begun drinking frequently by that time. The boys with the gene variation drank more often than those without it.  

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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