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Gene variation makes alcoholism less likely in some survivors of sexual abuse
Date:2/2/2010

articipated in the Nicotine Addiction Genetics project. Originally, that study was set up to learn about nicotine addiction, but investigators also looked at related problems, including how much alcohol people drank and whether they met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence.

Study subjects also were asked about sexual abuse in childhood. A total of 121 women and 35 men reported a history of sexual abuse beginning at around age 11. Nelson's group also had access to DNA samples from those evaluated in this study.

By identifying a handful of specific sites in the genome, it's possible to classify a person as having either the H1 or the H2 haplotype. One of the genes in the DNA region included in H1 and H2 is called corticotropin releasing hormone receptor type 1 (CRHR1). Nelson's group is focusing on that gene, which research in animals has implicated in risk for alcohol dependence.

Many past studies have focused on genes related to alcohol metabolism, but CRHR1 is not a metabolism gene. Nelson says it appears from animal studies, however, that the gene may be involved in risks associated with the effects of environmental stress. In the case of humans, he suspects variants of the gene may play a role in protecting against stresses caused by child sexual abuse.

"There are many different ways an individual can become alcoholic, some involving heavy genetic risks, some involving specific environmental factors, such as exposure to peers who drink heavily," Nelson says. "This particular pathway involving CRHR1 is interesting because it seems to play an extremely important role in animal models of alcohol consumption and dependence."

He says better understanding of how the gene works may help scientists understand the process by which people become alcoholics. As they attempt to clarify the possible role of the CRHR1 gene in protecting sexual abuse survivors from alcohol dependence, Nelson says it may be interesting to lo
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Contact: Diane Duke Williams
williamsdia@wustl.edu
314-286-0111
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert

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