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Genetics May Boost Mexican-Americans' Risk for Alcoholism

Scientists zero in on a DNA cluster that may encourage the addiction

THURSDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Mexican-Americans carrying what's known as a haplotype of a particular gene may be at increased risk of alcoholism, a new study finds.

Haplotypes are clusters of genetic polymorphisms or variations.

In the study,researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center (UKMC)collected blood samples and clinical data from almost 700 Mexican-Americans (334 alcoholics and 365 non-alcoholics) living in the Los Angeles area.

They focused particularly on the CYP2E1 gene, and found that people "carrying haplotype H6, the combination of the four alleles [copies] -- 1C, c2, C and A2 -- appear to have increased susceptibility to developing alcoholism," corresponding author Yu-Jui Yvonne Wan, a professor of pharmacology and director of the Liver Center at UKMC, said in a prepared statement.

Wan also said that hapoltype H6 is associated with late-age onset of drinking, as well as heavy drinking. They also found that the H1, H2 and H3 haplotypes were associated with alcohol consumption and smoking.

More research is needed to examine the "functional significance" of the H6 haplotpye.

"Whether H6 changes enzyme activity or alcohol-induced enzyme activity needs to be examined," Wan said. "Although only 5 percent of Mexican alcoholics have the H6 haplotype, it is important to use the same approach to study other ethnic groups, particularly Asians, who have high frequency of both c2 and C alleles. Furthermore, since elevated CYP2E1 causes oxidative stress, polymorphisms of this gene might also have an impact on other disease processes such as cancer."

The study is published in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about problem drinking.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, news release, Nov. 26, 2007

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