Researchers have identified a gene that could provide a new target for developing medication to prevent and treat alcoholism. Researchers at Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) in the US discovered a gene that had lower expression in the brains of non-human primates which voluntarily consumed heavy amounts of alcohol compared to those that drank less. Furthermore, the team unravelled a link between alcohol and how it modulates the levels of activity of this particular gene.
Researchers discovered that when they increased the levels of the gene encoded a protein in mice, they reduced alcohol consumption by almost 50 per cent without affecting the total amount of fluid consumed or their overall well-being. The study modified the levels of the protein encoded by a single gene known as GPR39.
The prevalence rates of co-occurring mood and alcohol use disorders are high, with individuals with alcohol use disorder being 3.7 times more likely to have major depression than those who do not abuse alcohol. Using a commercially available substance that mimics the activity of the GPR39 protein, the researchers found that targeting this gene dramatically reduced alcohol consumption in mice, showed the findings of the study published in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology. The study highlights the importance of using cross-species approaches to identify and test relevant drugs for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.