Tolerance Levels to Alcohol May be Genetically Wired - Study
Feb 21, 2005 - 10:04:38 AM

Alcohol interferes at the level of brain cells' communication with one another, resulting in the lack of coordination, grogginess, impaired memory and loss of inhibitions associated with drunkenness. Yet researchers have been unable to pinpoint how alcohol causes disruption in the brain.

Scientists at the David Geffen School of Medicine at Univesity Of California,Los Angeles (UCLA), have deciphered how a naturally occurring gene mutation in rats' brains lowers the animals' tolerance to alcohol, leading to rapid and acute intoxication after the equivalent of one drink.

The UCLA study is the first to identify how the gene variation alters GABA receptors — specific sites targeted by chemicals from the brain cells — making them more responsive to very low levels of alcohol. Alcohol enhances the GABA receptors' influence on brain cells, slowing the cells' activity and ability to communicate.

The fact that gene mutation arises naturally suggests that tolerance levels to alcohol may be genetically wired in people, too.

If so, the findings eventually could help identify children and adults at higher risk of developing alcohol dependency, so these individuals can make an informed decision about whether to drink.

The study results also may speed the development of new drugs that target alcohol-sensitive GABA receptors, leading to better treatments for alcohol poisoning and addiction.

The findings were reported in Feb. 6 online edition of Nature Neuroscience.

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