Discovery of ‘happy hour’ gene could lead to better treatments for alcoholism
Some people can hold their drink better than others because they have a “happy hour” gene, claim scientists, who believe the discovery could lead to treatments for alcoholism. Researchers found that those who had the genetic make up were able to become hardened to the affects of alcohol and therefore able to drink more.
Those without it would not be able to consume as much before becoming drunk or falling asleep.
The findings could help scientists find a cure for alcoholism by deactivating the gene and making those with a high tolerance to drink more sensitive to its effects.
Dr Ulrike Heberlein, from the University of California, who led the study, said the findings could lead to a “potential therapy for drug addiction”.
Although the effects of alcohol on behaviour and mental processes are well known, the biological mechanisms underlying them are still not fully understood.
Human studies have pointed to a strong genetic component to alcoholism, but pinpointing the genes involved has proved difficult.
Research suggests that the ease with which an individual gets drunk is a predictor of alcohol risk.
Evidence suggests that people who can “take their drink” and have low sensitivity to alcohol are more likely to become addicted.
The team discovered the gene in fruit flies but believe it would be the same for humans.
They believe the gene blocks the action of Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF), a protein that stimulates cell growth and is best known for its role in cancer.
Certain cancer drugs do the same thing, including two approved for use against lung cancer, Tarceva and Iressa, said the team.
The new US study, reported in the journal Cell, reveals that mice and rats treated with Tarceva grow more sensitive to alcohol.
Rats given the cancer drug spontaneously consumed less alcohol when it was freely available to them.
But their taste for another enjoyable drink, sugared water, was unaffected.
The precise connection between alcohol and the EGF pathway is the subject of more research by the San Francisco scientists.