A team of international researchers have conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify genes responsible for high population-levels of alcohol consumption. Published in Science Advances, they used genomic data from the UK Biobank and a US study to pinpoint the genes responsible, identifying six loci that could be associated with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Excessive consumption of alcohol is considered a result of complex interactions between genetic and non-genetic risk factors. Alcohol consumption is associated with over 60 diseases, and with greater alcohol exposure, morbidities increase from these diseases. Family, twin, and adoption studies have shown that half the variance for alcohol use disorder can be explained by genetic factors, but finding the exact genes that are associated with this behaviour has been difficult.

The study led by Dr. Andrew Thompson and Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed from the University of Liverpool analysed the genomic data of 125,249 participants from UK Biobank and 47,967 from a US study. They identified six loci associated with AUD, and then modelled them in worms to test their functional effects. The worms showed marked changes in response to alcohol exposure in all the genes tested. This is a new find in the alcohol field and suggests that these genes have a true impact on response to alcohol.

Dr. Thompson said, “Our study offers insight into genes, pathways, and relationships for disease risk associated with high alcohol consumption.

Understanding the genetic risks for alcohol consumption could be useful in developing new treatments for people with alcohol use disorders and identifying those at risk early on.

Professor Pirmohamed, said: “This is a really important area because of the morbidity and mortality, and societal effects, of heavy alcohol consumption. Our study also highlights the fantastic value of the UK biobank, a long term investment by many funders in the UK, which is now leading to many novel insights in a large number of diseases.”