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Gene Variant Tied to Severity of Drinking

Marker could be used to identify those at risk and tailor treatment methods

FRIDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- A variation in one gene may explain why some people are more heavily dependent on alcohol than are others.

University of Virginia Health System researchers linked the DNA sequencing of the SLC6A4 serotonin transporter gene to how many drinks a day people receiving help for alcohol dependency used to have. Serotonin, a brain chemical, previously had been found to help foster the pleasant feelings people get from drinking as well as personal preference and consumption of the beverage.

"Of the six variants examined in the study, we found that one variant at the 3' end of the gene showed a significant association with drinking intensity," study co-author Ming D. Li, professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at UVA's School of Medicine, said in a news release from the university's health system. "Specifically, we found that individuals with the 'G' allele of this variant drink less than individuals with the 'T allele.' "

The findings, published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, could help in tailoring treatment of alcoholism, study co-author Dr. Bankole Johnson, chairman of UVA's department of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, said in the news release.

"A known genetic marker could be used to sub-type alcoholics and better determine treatment methods that can target specific underlying molecular mechanisms," Johnson said. "We hope to determine whether this particular genetic variant can be used as a marker to predict treatment outcomes for different serotonin agents."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about alcohol use and health.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: University of Virginia Health System, news release, Feb. 4, 2009

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