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Alcohol researchers relate a genetic factor to anxiety in women

Researchers have identified a genetic factor that appears to influence anxiety in women. Combining DNA analysis, recordings of brain activity, and psychological tests, investigators at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that Caucasian and American Indian women with the same gene variant had similarly high scores on tests that measure anxiety. These women also had similar electroencephelograms (EEG) -- recordings of brain electrical activity as unique as an individual's fingerprints -- that showed characteristics of anxious temperament, further strengthening the association of this shared genetic factor with anxiety. The study appears in the current issue of the journal Psychiatric Genetics.

"These results shed more light on the genetic origins of anxiety, which can sometimes be a warning sign for developing alcoholism," says NIAAA Director T.K. Li, M.D. "Such multidimensional studies that integrate neurogenetics, behavioral science, and the study of the brain are vital to increasing our fundamental knowledge of the genes related to complex psychiatric disorders."

Research physician Mary-Anne Enoch, M.D., and colleagues in the Laboratory of Neurogenetics in NIAAA's Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research in Bethesda, Maryland, conducted the study. The team investigated a gene that encodes catechol-O-methyltranferase, or COMT, a major enzyme responsible for the metabolism of certain neurotransmitters -- the nervous system's chemical messengers -- including norepinephrine, which affects anxiety. People can inherit various possible forms, or polymorphisms, of the COMT gene, which in turn can affect the metabolism of their neurotransmitters. Dr. Enoch's team hypothesized that a particular genetic polymorphism identified as COMT Val158Met might be associated with anxiety as measured by a personality dimension test and EEG records.

"We set out to investigate the relationship of COMT gene variants
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Contact: Ann Bradley
abradley@willco.niaaa.nih.gov
301-443-0595
NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
1-Mar-2003


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