A group of 11 genes can successfully predict whether an individual is at increased risk of alcoholism, a research team from the United States and Germany reported Tuesday. The panel of genes is highly accurate in its differentiation of alcoholics from controls at a population level, but less so at an individual level, likely due to the major and variable role environment plays in the development of the disease in each individual, the authors noted. Nevertheless, such a test could identify people who are at higher or lower risk for the disease.
“This powerful panel of just 11 genes successfully identified who has problems with alcohol abuse and who does not in tests in three patient populations on two continents, in two ethnicities, and in both genders,” says Alexander B. Niculescu III, MD, PhD, principal investigator.
The research team incorporated data from a genome-wide study of alcoholism with data from a variety of other types of research into genetic links to alcoholism using a system called Convergent Functional Genomics. The work produced a group of 135 candidate genes. Researchers then looked at the overlap between those 135 genes and genes whose expression activity was changed in a mouse model of stress-reactive alcoholism—mice that respond to stress by consuming alcohol. The mouse model enables researchers to zero in on key genes that drive behavior without the myriad environmental effects that are present in humans. The mouse model analysis narrowed the candidates down to the panel of 11 genes and 66 variations of those genes, called single-nucleotide polymorphisms.
The researchers then determined that the panel of 11 genes could be used to differentiate between alcoholics and non-alcoholics (controls) in three different research populations for which genetic data and information about alcohol consumption were available: a group of Caucasian subjects and a group of African American subjects from the U.S., and a third group from Germany. Read the article, published online in Translational Psychiatry.Read more