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Posted On: April 02, 2002          Updated On: December 25, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

Tampa Researchers Find Gene 
That Increases Risk Of Addiction

Associated Press, March 19, 2002

TAMPA - Researchers at the University of South Florida and James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital have found a gene believed to play a small role in drug, alcohol and cigarette addiction.

In a finding published in the March issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers said the gene variation is likely one of many genetic and environmental factors that increases the risk of becoming an addict.

Geneticists are continuing to search for other genes that might contribute to the addictions, said John Schinka, a researcher at the Tampa veterans' hospital.

``It explains a small percentage of the risk, but hopefully we can build on it,'' Schinka said Monday.

``If we can find five or six more of these genes, we can understand the biochemistry and we can develop some medications that can enhance treatment.''

The researchers had been studying the genetic basis for addiction since 1997 and initially discovered a relationship between alcohol dependence and the mu-opioid gene.

Medical science has long maintained that about half the risk of becoming an alcoholic is inherited, but finding the genes that make even a small contribution to the risk of addiction has been challenging.

The Tampa researchers compared the gene patterns of alcoholics to people who were not addicted and found that alcoholics had an abundance of the mu-opioid gene.

The gene has to be inherited from both the addict's mother and father to play a role in the addiction, Schinka said.

Researchers extended their study to 179 people in a substance-abuse treatment program at the veterans' hospital, comparing them to 297 healthy, elderly people on Florida's Gulf coast with varying levels of cigarette and alcohol usage.

Using DNA taken from blood samples, the researchers found people who have the variation don't automatically become addicts, he said.

But the gene configuration was found most frequently in groups of people who drank and smoked, and in almost 90 percent of those treated for abusing several drugs, the researchers said.

``It certainly makes the argument that this is a disease,'' Schinka said. ``Are there things you can do to avoid getting the diseases? Obviously yes.''

AP-ES-03-18-02 1940EST

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