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Gene linked to drink addiction to help treat alcoholics

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy AYOKI ONYANGO | Wed,Oct 29 2014 00:00:00 EAT
By AYOKI ONYANGO | Wed,Oct 29 2014 00:00:00 EAT

NAIROBI, KENYA: Scientists have identified a gene that appears to play a role in regulating how much alcohol people drink. And they say their finding could help the search for more effective treatments for alcoholism or alcohol addiction and binge drinking.

In a study of more than 47,000 subjects, an international team of scientists found that people who have a rare version of a gene called AUTS2 drink on average five per cent less alcohol than people with the more common version.

The AUTS2 gene, also known as ‘autism susceptibility candidate 2’ has previously been linked to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but its actual function is not clear, the researchers from a British college said.

“Of course, there are a lot of factors that affect how much alcohol a person drinks, but we know that genes play an important role,” said Paul Elliot of Imperial College London, who was part of the team that conducted the study.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths a year globally. Alcohol consumption is the world’s third largest risk factor for causing diseases and disorders such as neuropsychiatric disorders, gout, hypertension, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Alcoholism or addiction can also cause epilepsy, as well as cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver and various forms of cancer, the study reveals.

Gunter Schumann from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, who was also involved in the study says combining genetic studies and behavioural data should help scientists better understand the biological basis of why people drink, some of them excessively.

In their study, published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Journal, the team analysed DNA samples from more than 26,000 volunteers to search for genes that appeared to affect alcohol consumption and then checked their findings in another 21,000 people.

The volunteers answered questionnaires to report how much alcohol they drank.

After identifying AUTS2, the scientists analysed how active the gene was in samples of donated brain tissue. They found that people with the version of the gene linked to lower alcohol consumption had higher activity of the gene

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The researchers also looked at strains of mice that had been selectively bred according to how much alcohol they drank voluntarily, and found there were differences in the AUTS2 gene activity levels among different breeds.

In another part of the study using flies, the researchers found that blocking the effect of a fruit fly version of the same gene made the flies less sensitive to alcohol. This suggests AUTS2 seems to be involved in regulation of alcohol intake in a number of different species, they said.

In Kenya, deaths linked to alcohol consumption have steadily overtaken some of the most serious diseases and even road accidents.

According to Walter Odede-Nyakwaka, the CEO of Africa Alive Kenya Chapter, many people resort to alcoholism due to stress, depression, hard economic times and unemployment.

“Poverty has led to both the young and old succumbing to alcohol addiction and the Government must address the issue of unemployment urgently so that unemployed people can be engaged in useful activity so that they can buy refined alcoholic drinks,” advises Odede.

It is believed that those out to make quick money are selling methanol to unsuspecting members of the public.

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