In a step that could lead to development of drugs to regulate alcohol consumption, researchers have identified a gene variant that suppresses the desire for a drink.
“The findings are based on the largest genome-wide association meta-analysis and replication study to date mapping and comparing the genetics — the DNA — of more than 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers,” said corresponding author of the study David Mangelsdorf, Chair of Pharmacology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
“The study identified a variation in the beta-Klotho gene linked to the regulation of social alcohol consumption. The less frequent variant — seen in approximately 40 per cent of the people in this study — is associated with a decreased desire to drink alcohol,” he said.
Like many complex traits, the genetic influences on brain functions affecting drinking behaviour were thought to be so small that it would be necessary to study large numbers of people in order to detect those genetic variations, Mangelsdorf said.
The study compared the genetics of light and heavy social drinkers of European ancestry participating in nearly four dozen other large population studies worldwide.
The findings, published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), could lead to development of drugs to help those with drinking problems.
A shift from heavy to moderate social drinking could have major public health benefits, such as reduced cardiovascular disease risk.