Scientists have discovered a gene mutation that can trigger excessive drinking.
Researchers in the United Kingdom said they found a gene that regulates alcohol consumption and identified a mechanism that caused mice examined in the study to choose alcohol over water.
The study found that mice without the mutation showed little or no interest in alcohol when offered a choice between water and diluted alcohol with roughly the alcohol content of wine.
But the researchers said mice with a mutation to the gene Gabrb1 overwhelmingly preferred alcohol to water, choosing to consume nearly 85 percent of their daily fluids in drinks that contained alcohol.
“It’s amazing to think that a small change in the code for just one gene can have such profound effects on complex behaviors like alcohol consumption,” said Dr. Quentin Anstee, of Newcastle University.
The researchers said they’re trying to determine whether the gene has a similar influence in humans, although Anstee noted that complicated environmental factors can also determine drinking habits for individual people.
“But there is the real potential for this to guide development of better treatments for alcoholism in the future,” Anstee said.
Anstee worked with a group of researchers from four other universities – Imperial College London, Sussex University, University College London and University of Dundee.
Researchers introduced the mutation at random and then tested the mice for alcohol preference, which allowed them to identify the Gabrb1 gene.
The gene helps regulate a receptor that responds to the brain’s moth important inhibitory chemical messenger, and researchers said the mutation caused the receptor to activate spontaneously.
The changes were particularly strong in regions of the brain that control pleasurable emotions and reward, Anstee said.
“As the electrical signal from these receptors increases, so does the desire to drink to such an extent that mice will actually work to get the alcohol, for much longer than we would have expected,” Anstee said.
They said the mice carrying the mutation were willing push a lever to get the alcoholic drinks and continued to do so over long periods, unlike other mice.
Those mice also voluntarily consumed enough alcohol in an hour to become intoxicated.
[Image: Young beautiful woman in depression, drinking alcohol via Shutterstock]