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Genetic Variant May Lead to Impulsive, Violent Behavior when Mixed with Alcohol

Posted in Abused Drugs

A team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health has discovered that a genetic variant of a brain receptor molecule may contribute to violently impulsive behavior when carriers of the variant have been drinking alcohol. The researchers noted that although this trait can be valuable if a quick decision must be made or in situations where risk-taking is favored, it can be very dangerous when the carrier is impaired by alcohol.

Working with researchers in Finland and France, senior author David Goldman, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and colleagues examined a sample of violent criminal offenders in Finland. The crimes committed by the individuals in the sample were spontaneous and purposeless. Dr. Goldman said that impulsivity, or action without foresight, factors into many pathological behaviors including addiction, aggression, and suicide.

Dr. Goldman explained that the study was conducted in Finland because modern Finns are descended from a relatively small number of original settlers, which reduced the genetic complexity of diseases in the country. Studying the genetics of violent criminal offenders in the country increased the researchers’ changes of finding genes that influence such behavior.

For the study, the researchers examined DNA of the subjects and compared their DNA with the DNA from an equal number of non-violent Finnish subjects. They found that the presence of a DNA change that blocks a gene called HTR2B predicted highly impulsive behavior in the subjects.

Dr. Goldman noted that they found that the genetic variant alone wouldn’t cause people to behave impulsively; carriers of the variant who had committed violent, impulsive crimes were all male and had become violent only when drunk.

Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., acting director of the NIAAA, said that this discovery could have much wider implications. He added that the interaction of the gene variant with alcohol is interesting, as is the involvement of a nuerotransmitter pathway that has been associated with addictions and other compulsive behaviors.

The researchers later conducted studies on mice and found that when the equivalent HTR2B gene is blocked, the mice also became impulsive. The researchers are now conducting studies involving alcohol to see if the results are similar to those in humans.

The studies could help scientists better understand some aspects of impulsivity and addiction, and could help diagnose and treat those with impulsive behavior disorders.

Source: Science Daily, Genetic Variant That Can Lead to Severe Impulsivity Identified, December 27, 2010