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Study identifies 'gene network' behind alcoholism

8 December 2014
Appeared in BioNews 783

Alcohol dependence may be determined by a set of genes that work together as a network, according to a US study.

The researchers claim it is the first time a technique called bioinformatics has been used to identify a group of genes that when expressed together can be associated with alcoholism.

'This provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the gene sets that drive alcohol dependence,' said Dr Adron Harris, one of the leaders of the study at the University of Texas.

'We now have a much clearer picture of where specific traits related to alcohol dependence overlap with specific expressions in genetic code,' he added.

It has been known for some time that genetics may play a role in alcoholism and addiction, but this correlation could not be put down to the operation of any one gene.

The scientists used RNA sequencing to extract genetic information from the post mortem brain tissue of 16 alcoholics and 15 non-alcoholics. This information was then put through a series of computational algorithms, which recognised particular gene sets that were linked as networks in the alcoholics, but not in the non-alcoholics.

Dr Sean Farris, who also led the study, said: 'We hope our model can serve as a type of Wikipedia of alcohol dependence, helping to break down the complexities of alcohol dependence and becoming a reference for future research into drug therapies.'

The researchers hope that their findings may also help develop a screening process to evaluate a person's risk factors for alcohol dependence.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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