Carrying a gene variant that affects the release of a specific brain protein may put one at greater risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, according to the results of a recent animal study.
In the study, published in Biological Psychiatry, scientists found that mice carrying the Met68BDNF gene variant, which reduces the release of brain-derived neurotrophic (BDNF) factor, would consume excessive amounts of alcohol, despite negative consequences. BDNF plays a role in the survival of existing neurons and the growth of new neurons and synapses, the junctures through which cell-to-cell communication occurs. The human form of this gene variant, Met66BDNF, leads to a reduction in the normal function of BDNF in the brain and is associated with several psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and depression.
In another animal study released earlier this year, NIAAA-supported scientists found that teen binge drinking was linked to lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and these changes persisted into adulthood.
“By understanding the genetic underpinnings of alcohol use disorder, we will be better able to develop targeted treatment and prevention strategies,” said Dr. George Koob, PhD, Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in a news release.
The study was led by Professor Dorit Ron, PhD, Endowed Chair of Cell Biology of Addiction, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, and was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Alcohol use disorder affects about 16.6 million adults in the United States. Knowing whether patients carry a gene that results in decreased BDNF function could help in tailoring alcohol prevention and treatment strategies in the future, researchers noted.