Scottish Scientists Find Gene Switch Which May Be Connected To Alcohol Abuse And Anxiety.
Last blog post we wrote about how there may be a link between over consumption of alcohol and anxiety. Now scientists in Scotland may have a clue as to how this mechanism operates. They have helped find a connection between alcohol abuse and anxiety in males. This could possibly lead to a breakthrough in getting to the root of depressive illness in men, as well as understanding what drives people to drink excessively.
How many times have you said, every time you had a too much to drink, that it was going to be the last time? Sometimes this is caused by anxiety that you have done or said something while drunk. This is just one of the side affects you have come to expect when drinking the night before. You know you will probably wake up with a hangover and also experience what is known as `the fear`. This is the phenomenon where you may feel apprehensive about what may have happened, and what you may have said or done. It is not uncommon for people to feel anxious when they have over imbibed.
Research gives some clues
Molecular Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, recently published a study from Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities. Their research, demonstrated how different parts of DNA may help cause to men consuming more alcohol. The scientists managed to activate the genes in the brain that manage mood and contribute to how much you drink.
Under the direction of team leader Dr Alasdair MacKenzie, scientists at the University of Aberdeen, have been investigating whether people have anxiety because they drink, or drink because they have anxiety. You could say it was the classic chicken and egg question. Research now shows it could in part go down to a genetic level but there is more work to be done.
Research teams examined human DNA to see how genetics could add to problems with booze and anxiety.
Gene switches linked to alcohol abuse and anxiety
Experts know that the human genome has specific gene sequences which code for the proteins to make our bodies. Each cell has the complete genome but only certain parts of it are active in a particular tissue and circumstance. However, it’s not know exactly how genes are activated in the right cells, at the right time, to keep us healthy.
Cutting edge research has revealed that some DNA changes linked to illness take place in ‘Enhancers’ or ‘Switch areas’. These switch areas of the genome control how other parts (genes) are activated and expressed. One area may be related to the desire to continue drinking beyond healthy limits. This may also be to be linked to having anxiety.
By seeking out the particular switch areas of DNA, Dr MacKenzie and his colleagues, Dr Toni-Kim Clarke and Prof Andrew McIntosh, discovered some changes in it were connected to alcohol abuse in males. This was especially true of those living with mental illnesses like anxiety.
A step forward in understanding alcohol abuse and anxiety
Scientists consider this discovery a great step forward, leading them to carry out experiments using CRISPR genome editing in mice to eliminate the suspect switch from the mouse DNA.
During the studies, mice had the option of sipping water or an alcohol mix. The average mouse chooses alcohol, but the mouse minus the DNA switch sequence mostly preferred water.
Researchers also noticed that the male subjects without the switch were not as anxious as ordinary mice, who were more prone to hiding. Through their study, scientists have been able to pinpoint a genetic switch connected to adverse human behaviour, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
Is it possible we could recognise why some people are more prone to anxiety, leading them to drink? Could we even use this information in medical research, to better understand the part switches play in mental health? It may be possible to develop medication to intervene in the genetic switch causing anxiety.
Is there a chance we could stop people from feeling anxious and turning to drink? Could we one day even a find a cure for anxiety and alcohol abuse, following this momentous discovery. Further work will show if the answer is in the genes.