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Variant Linked to Alcoholism

San Francisco-area researchers have linked a variant in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene to compulsive drinking, as they report in Biological Psychiatry.

The University of California, San Francisco's Dorit Ron and his colleagues sought to determine whether this Met68BDNF gene variant, which has been linked to psychiatric disorders in people, is also associated with alcoholism. The variant, they note, leads to reduced levels of the BDNF protein.

Transgenic mice with the mouse homolog of the gene variant lapped up excessive amounts alcohol and continued to drink despite negative consequences — a hallmark of addiction.

"Genetic factors play a role in determining who develops alcohol problems," says George Koob, the director of National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which funded the study, in a statement. "By understanding the genetic underpinnings of alcohol use disorder, we will be better able to develop targeted treatment and prevention strategies."

Ron and his colleagues also report that activating the BDNF receptor, tropomyosin receptor kinase B, with the agonist LM22A-4 could reverse the excessive drinking effect in mice. This, they add, could have potential as a therapeutic for humans.