We all know that addiction runs in families. How much of that is environmentally influenced and how much is due to genetics has always been uncertain. Making progress in that important consideration, Scripps Research Institute scientist have identified a gene that they believe is a key component in making a person vulnerable to alcohol dependence.

Known as Nf1 (neurofibromatosis type 1), this gene affects Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) production. GABA lowers anxiety and provides a feeling of relaxation. Scientist believe Nf1 study can indicate who will become alcohol dependent and also the potential severity of their individual disease.

The scientist from Scripps Research lowered the level of Nf1 in a group of mice. They compared the alcohol consumption of these mice with altered Nf1 to that of mice with unmodified Nf1 levels. After just one bout of withdrawals, the mice with intact Nf1 drank more alcohol when it was available. The mice with lowered Nf1 did not.

Marisa Roberto, Associate Professor at the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), co-authored the paper on this study that was recently published in Biological Psychiatry. Roberto says, “This novel and seminal study provides insights into the cellular mechanisms of alcohol dependence.”

Professor Roberto and the other team members also studied the amount of GABA released in the brains of mice with modified levels of Nf1.

They also worked with geneticist across the country to analyze the genetic data of 9,000 people for Nf1 variations. This analysis showed a correlation between Nf1 and the development of alcoholism. It also showed and association in Nf1 and the severity of a person’s addiction.

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