Genetics influence alcohol dependence, brain activity

April 13th, 2011 - 5:39 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Apr 13 (ANI): Researchers have uncovered a new link between genetic variations associated with alcoholism, impulsive behavior and a region of the brain involved in craving and anxiety.

The results suggest that variations in the GABRA2 gene contribute to the risk of alcoholism by influencing impulsive behaviors, at least in part through a portion of the cerebral cortex known as the insula, says study senior author Margit Burmeister, research professor at University of Michigan’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.

Individuals under distress who also have the risky genetic variant tend to act impulsively, a behavior that may lead to the development of alcohol problems, says lead author Sandra Villafuerte, a research investigator at University of Michigan’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychiatry.

The study included 449 people, who came from 173 families - 129 of whom had at least one member diagnosed with alcohol dependence or abuse. Those with certain variations in the GABRA2 gene were more likely to have alcohol dependence symptoms and higher measures of impulsiveness in response to distress, the study found. Stronger associations were found in women than in men.

Researchers also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe changes of blood flow in the brains of 44 young adults from these families as they performed a task in which they anticipated winning or losing money.

They found that individuals with one form of the GABRA2 gene associated with alcoholism showed significantly higher activation in the insula when anticipating rewards and losses than those with other combinations. This higher activation was also related to a greater level of impulsiveness in response to distress.

The study has been published online in Molecular Psychiatry. (ANI)

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