A new gene discovery may dampen the desire to drink alcohol, scientists say. The findings of the study might lead to the development of drugs and treatment options that could treat alcoholism.
In the largest study of its kind, a team of researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and their colleagues from Europe have identified a gene variant that can suppress the desire to drink alcohol. Dubbed as β-Klotho, a variation of this gene was linked to the regulation of social alcohol consumption.
The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows a pathway between a hormone, called FGF21, which is secreted by the liver, and a gene in the brain called beta-Klotho. By looking at the genome of more than 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers, they found the liver hormone fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) plays a crucial role in setting a person's drinking limits.
The study further found that those individuals lacking the beta-Klotho gene show a significant increase in alcohol consumption. In addition to providing samples for genetic analysis, the participants completed questionnaires on their weekly drinking habits.
"The study identified a variation in the β-Klotho gene linked to the regulation of social alcohol consumption. The less frequent variant - seen in approximately 40 percent of the people in this study - is associated with a decreased desire to drink alcohol," Dr. David Mangelsdorf, lead author of the study, said in a press release by the UT Southwestern Medical Center.
The experiments were conducted in mice, and the findings of the study could lead to the development of drugs to regular alcohol consumption, possibly curbing alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 87.6 percent of people ages 18 years and older admitted that they have drunk alcohol in their lifetime in 2014. However, approximately 16.3 million adults had an alcohol use disorder in 2014 with nearly 88,000 people dying from alcohol-related causes each year.
The researchers described heavy drinking as having more than 21 drinks per week for men and over 14 drinks per week for women. On the other hand, light drinking was considered to be 14 drinks or less and seven drinks or less per week for men and women, respectively.