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Gene Variant to Protect Against Alcoholism

Researchers have now discovered a gene variant that may protect people against alcoholism. The variant is contained in CYP2E1 and is connected to a person’s response to alcohol. About 10 to 20 percent of people have CYP2E1 and that means that having just a few drinks leave them feeling more drunk than others who do not have the gene variant.

Earlier studies had shows that people who have a strong reaction were less likely to become alcoholics, but the genetic reason for this was unclear. This discovery of the role that CYP2E1 plays hints at a new mechanism of how people think of alcohol and how it affects the brain.

“We have found a gene that protects against alcoholism, and on top of that, has a very strong effect,” said lead study author Kirk Wilhelmsen, M.D., Ph.D., professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. “But alcoholism is a very complex disease, and there are lots of complicated reasons why people drink. This may be just one of the reasons.”

The research team examined a specific phenotype, or the way people feel after drinking alcohol. They then used the phenotype to dissect why come people develop alcoholism and others do not.

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