Study finds shared genetic basis for problematic drinking
By Carl Samson
December 26, 2023
A new study has found that ancestries across the world possess a shared genetic architecture for problematic drinking.
Key findings: The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, reveals that individuals from various ancestries around the globe share a common genetic framework for problematic alcohol use (PAU), or habitual heavy drinking with harmful consequences. This includes ancestries from East Asian, South Asian, African, European and Latin American backgrounds.
Researchers identified numerous new risk genes associated with PAU and uncovered new biological aspects related to it. This advancement could lead to new avenues for treatment.
About PAU: PAU is a major cause of health problems across many age groups and is the leading cause of death among its sufferers. According to the WHO, the harmful use of alcohol contributes to more than 200 diseases and injury conditions and accounts for three million deaths every year (5.3% of all deaths).
How the study was conducted: Researchers at VA Connecticut Healthcare Center/Yale studied over a million individuals with PAU from diverse genetic backgrounds, including East Asian, South Asian, African, European and Latin American ancestries. It utilized data from the Million Veteran Program (MVP) — a national research program that studies how genes, lifestyle, military experiences and exposures affect the health and wellness of veterans — in combination with other sources.
The cross-ancestry analysis resulted in the identification of 110 gene regions and allowed researchers to improve the mapping of potential causal variants. They also employed methods to link gene expression and chromatin interaction analyses in the brain to PAU, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of its genetic underpinnings.
What the researchers are saying: Hang Zhou, first author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry and of biomedical informatics and data science at Yale School of Medicine and VA Connecticut, emphasized the importance of understanding PAU in order to improve treatment approaches.
“Research with the primary focus on understanding the molecular mechanism underlying PAU and identification of gene targets for potential pharmacological studies is extremely important for future treatments and could help mitigate the consequences of excessive alcohol use,” Zhou said in a statement.
Joel Gelernter, the study’s senior author and a professor of genetics and neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine and VA Connecticut, said one of the most important outcomes of their research is the information on PAU risk across the entire genome.
“The resulting data allowed us to understand the biology of PAU better, suggesting some already-approved drugs that might become tools for treating PAU in the future, with additional research,” he said.
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