Study finds altered gene adds anxiety

Mice in experiment drank more alcohol than peers

May 27, 2004|By Jamie Talan | Jamie Talan,NEWSDAY

Making slight alterations in a common gene makes mice drink 50 percent more alcohol than their littermates, new research shows. The genetic changes also made the animals more anxious.

The gene, called CREB, is critical to both mice and humans. During early development, the gene `'turns on" other genes to regulate brain growth and function. Throughout life, it's intimately involved in learning and memory. Some studies suggest that boosting CREB activity makes it easier for animals to learn and remember.

But this latest finding suggests that abnormalities in the production of the protein made by the gene has other important behavioral effects.

Understanding how these biological systems work could lead to new ways to treat alcoholism and anxiety disorders, said Subhash Pandey, associate professor of psychiatry and director of neuroscience alcoholism research at the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Medicine. He is the lead author of the CREB study in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Pandey said genetic studies are key to understanding what causes excessive drinking.

In this latest study, Pandey and colleagues deleted part of the CREB gene in mice. The mice were trained to drink out of two bottles: one with alcohol and one with sugar water.

Animals with the altered CREB gene were very anxious and drank a lot more alcohol than the unaltered animals. CREB has also recently been implicated in depression. Prozac and similar drugs increase the production of CREB.

According to federal statistics, 14 million Americans suffer from alcohol problems.

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