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Gene mutation makes rats light drinkers

14 February 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 295

A genetic variation that drastically lowers rats' tolerance of alcohol may also explain why some people become drunk after just one beer, US scientists say. Researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) have worked out how a naturally occurring gene mutation affects rats' brains so that they become 'acutely intoxicated' after the equivalent of one alcoholic drink. The findings, published online in the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggest that tolerance levels to alcohol may also be genetically wired in people, say the scientists.

Alcohol interferes with how brain cells communicate with one another, causing problems with co-ordination, memory and loss of inhibitions. The UCLA team has discovered that rats with a low tolerance to alcohol have an altered version of a gene that makes a GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptor - a protein that interacts with a chemical crucial to brain cell communication. The mutation makes the GABA receptors more responsive to very low levels of alcohol, which in turn slows the brain cells' activity and ability to communicate.

The researchers say their findings could eventually help identify children and adults at high risk of becoming dependent on alcohol, which could allow them to make 'an informed decision' about whether to drink. The study could also lead to new drugs that target alcohol-sensitive GABA receptors, providing better treatments for alcohol poisoning and addiction. Author Richard Olsen said: 'If we understand the action of alcohol at the cellular and molecular level, it is helpful in treating the harmful effects that alcohol may have'.

Brain Scientists Crack Mystery of How Alcohol Causes Intoxication
Newswire.com |  7 February 2005
Weakness for drink could be in the genes
The Daily Telegraph |  7 February 2005
1 May 2009 - by Adam Fletcher 
Neuroscientists at the University of California, San Francisco, and the Ernest Gallo Research Center, Emeryville, US, have published a study in the journal Cell describing a new gene that influences ethanol sensitivity in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The work offers tantalising hope that the same regulatory...
2 June 2008 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
An international team of scientists has found that the genes that help the body break down alcohol also influence a person's risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat and oesophagus. The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, looked at six variants of the alcohol dehydrogenase...
18 November 2004 - by BioNews 
US researchers have discovered that some people may drink more alcohol than others because of genetic differences that affect their taste buds. The scientists, based at the University of Conneticut, say their findings could help explain differences in people's drinking behaviour. The study focused on light to moderate drinkers, and...
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