In Brief

Researchers identified a gene variant that influences alcohol consumption in mice, a finding that could eventually help researchers develop a drug to treat alcoholism.

"The identification of this gene is a small step for the better understanding of the molecular organization of alcohol consumption," says researcher Csaba Vadasz, PhD, professor of psychiatric research at the New York University School of Medicine.

Known as Grm7, the gene codes a glutamate receptor that inhibits the release of glutamate and other neurotransmitters. Researchers identified a version of the gene that operates on overdrive, increasing the level of an intermediate molecule, which is needed for the production of the glutamate receptor in brain tissue. Mice with this mutation drink less alcohol than do those that do not have this gene variant, found Vadasz's study, published in Genomics (Vol. 90, No. 6).

Dopamine has long been considered the main neurochemical responsible for substance use and abuse, says Vadasz, but studies such as his support emerging evidence that glutamate plays an important role in addiction.

Because alcohol consumption is a polygenic trait with many environmental influences, more research is needed to identify other genes associated with the behavior, says Vadasz. That work may pave the way for new drug-based treatments for alcoholism.

"Since 1951, the FDA has approved only three drugs to treat alcoholism," says Vadasz. "The effectiveness of these drugs is limited, and people with alcohol use disorder are in dire need of new drugs."

--E. Packard