King's College London, Imperial College London and UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers were able to identify a liver hormone called 'FGF21' which may regulate alcohol consumption by acting directly on a receptor in the brain.
Dr. David Mangelsdorf, UT Southwestern's Chair of Pharmacology and author of the study said: "The findings are based on the largest genome-wide association meta-analysis and replication study to date mapping and comparing the genetics - the DNA - of more than 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers."
When Gene Was Removed, Alchol Intake Increased
Using mice during the study, the researchers found that normally, FGF21 inhibits alcohol preference. A gene variant, β-Klotho, which is seen in approximately 40 percent of people, is associated with a alcohol drinking. When researchers removed β-Klotho from the mice, alcohol intake increased. This means that FGF21's alcohol effects depend on β-Klotho's expression in the brain.
Dr. Mangelsdorf said: "They asked us to conduct experiments in mice to better understand the role of β-Klotho in alcohol drinking behavior. The β-Klotho gene directs the production of the β-Klotho protein that forms part of a receptor complex in the brain."
The Study Could Lead To Drug Development To Regulate Alcohol Consumption
In their report, the researchers said that "excessive alcohol consumption is a major public health problem worldwide, causing an estimated 3.3 million deaths in 2012." Too much alcohol drinking increases risk of many types of illnesses, including liver cancer and heart problems. The results of this research could be used to develop drugs to limit alcohol consumption.
Dr Sidarth Wakhlu, Head of UTSW's addiction division said: "The current study suggests that the FGF21-beta-Klotho pathway regulates alcohol consumption in humans and seems to point to a mechanism that we might be able to influence in order to reduce alcohol intake. If we are able to identify people with heavy, unhealthy or alcohol use disorders who have this genetic variant, we can specially target this complex."