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'Happy hour' gene discovery suggests cancer drugs might treat alcoholism
Date:5/21/2009

l rather incomplete.

Human studies have pointed to a strong genetic component to alcoholism, but identifying the specific genes responsible has proved difficult. Studies have also indicated that an individual's sensitivity to alcohol intoxication acts as a predictor of future alcoholism, with a link between lower initial response and increased risk of addiction. Therefore, Heberlein's team explained, genes and pathways involved in the acute response to alcohol can yield insight into the genetic factors contributing to the more complex process of addiction.

Earlier studies have shown that fruit flies are a useful tool for unraveling the basis for the effects of alcohol. Several genes previously identified as playing a role in fruit flies' alcohol response hold similar roles in mammals.

In search of more in the new study, the researchers screened mutant flies for those less sensitive to ethanol. That screen led them to happyhour, a gene closely related to mammalian enzymes known as the Ste20-family kinases of the GCK-1 subfamily.

Heberlein said they still don't know exactly how alcohol exerts its influence on the EGFR pathway or how that leads to the telltale changes in behavior that come with alcohol intoxication. Those questions will be the subject of future investigation. Her team is also exploring other new gene candidates that turned up in the fly screens. She says that several of those appear to be tied to the EGFR pathway in different ways.

"It's not yet clear how it all fits together," she said. "But the fact that we've come, in an unbiased way, to molecules in the same pathway is telling us this is really, really important."


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Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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