A new study entitled “Transcriptome organization for chronic alcohol abuse in human brain” reports the discovery of a genetic network signature associated with alcohol addiction. The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Alcohol dependence is associated with alterations in individuals’ brains, due to long-term exposure to the toxic alcohol effects. In this study, a team of researchers at The University of Texas at Austin performed a comparative analysis of gene expression in postmortem human brain tissue from alcoholics compared with those from nonalcoholic individuals. The authors found a gene expression signature prominently expressed as a network in alcoholics only. Specifically, the authors identified a co-joint expression of multiple ion channels, such as the human-specific isoform of voltage-gated sodium channel subunit SCN4B, which was associated with chronic exposure to alcohol. While the existence of a genetic predisposition for alcohol dependence has been previously reported, this study used high-throughput screening strategy and was capable of identifying a gene network associated with alcohol dependence.
R. Adron Harris, director of The University of Texas at Austin’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research commented, “This provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the gene sets that drive alcohol dependence. We now have a much clearer picture of where specific traits related to alcohol dependence overlap with specific expressions in genetic code.”
The identification of genetic factors associated with alcoholism allows for a potential new target development of drugs for alcoholism. This poses a particularly important feature since currently only three drugs have been approved by the FDA as therapeutics for alcohol dependence. Additionally, these findings will allow for future screenings to evaluate an individual’s risk of developing alcohol dependence.