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Tagged In:  Alcohol, Substance Misuse

A hormonal connection between the liver and the brain could one day lead to new therapeutic treatment for those drinking too much alcohol, a scientific study has found. 

Researchers from King’s College London, Imperial College London and UT Southwestern Medical Center carried out the largest-ever genetic analysis of non-addictive alcohol consumption. The 105,000 participants of European descent provided samples for genetic analysis, and answered questionnaires on their weekly drinking habits.

It was found that a liver hormone called FGF21 may regulate the consumption of alcohol by acting directly on a receptor in the brain. Researchers also noted that a variant of a gene named β-Klotho had an impact on alcohol intake; those 40 per cent of participants with the variant showed a decreased desire to drink alcohol.

Professor Gunter Schumann from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said the study could one day be targeted therapeutically to help substance misuse professionals and other experts to suppress consumption.

“The results point towards an intriguing feedback loop, where FGF21 is produced in the liver in response to sugar and alcohol intake, which then acts directly on the brain to limit consumption.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that β-Klotho acts by affecting neighbouring genes, so further genetic studies are warranted. It will also be important to explore these findings in more severe forms of alcohol drinking, as we only examined non-addictive consumption.”

Professor Paul Elliott from Imperial College London added: ‘Alcohol drinking in excess is a major public health problem worldwide and we need to find new ways of reducing the harmful effects of alcohol in the population. Even small shifts downward in the average amount of alcohol people drink may have major health benefits.

“The results of our study point to a previously unrecognised genetic determinant of alcohol drinking among the general population. Our findings may eventually lead to new treatments for people whose health is being harmed by drinking.”

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the European Commission and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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