Researchers Find Gene
That Increases Risk Of Addiction
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
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
``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.''