Scientists have identified 29 new genetic variants linked to problem drinking, tripling the number of known genetic risks associated with alcohol disorders.
The team from Yale University in the US identified the new variants after a genome-wide analysis of more than 435,000 people.
“The new data triple the number of known genetic risk loci associated with problematic alcohol use,” said study senior author Joel Gelernter from Yale University in the US.
In genetics, a locus (plural loci) is a specific, fixed position on a chromosome where a particular gene or genetic marker is located.
The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, includes genome-wide analysis of people of European ancestry contained in four separate biobanks or datasets.
“This gives us ways to understand causal relations between problematic alcohol use traits such as psychiatric states, risk-taking behaviour, and cognitive performance,” said study lead author Hang Zhou.
“With these results, we are also in a better position to evaluate the individual-level risk for problematic alcohol use,” Gelernter noted.
For the study, the researchers looked for shared genetic variants among those who met criteria for problematic alcohol use, including alcohol use disorder and alcohol use with medical consequences.
The analysis found 19 previously unknown independent genetic risk factors for problematic alcohol use and confirmed 10 previously identified risk factors.
The information allowed researchers to study shared genetic associations between problematic drinking and disorders such as depression and anxiety.
They also found genetic heritability of these variants was enriched in the brain and in evolutionarily conserved regulatory regions of the genome, attesting to their importance in biological function.