Genetic factors play a key role in the development of alcoholism. A family history of alcoholism does not, however, guarantee that individual offspring will develop the disease. In an effort to discover identifying "markers" of those at risk for alcoholism, researchers in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research evaluate the influence of a family history of alcoholism on the response of saccadic eye movements to alcohol.
Saccades are high-velocity eye movements made from one point to another, as in reading. Their main function is to bring the image of a target from the visual periphery onto the fovea centralis (center of the retina), where vision is most acute. The saccadic control system is sensitive to alcohol, and saccadic parameters provide reliable measures of alcohol's effects in a dose-dependent manner.
"The premise of our research is that the brain's response to alcohol is related to a genetically influenced risk for alcoholism," said Sean O'Connor, professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine and corresponding author for the study. "We used a familial history of alcoholism as a proxy for genetic influence, since specific genes cannot yet be identified. Saccadic eye-movements fulfilled all the criteria for a good measure of the brain's response to alcohol: they are known to be genetically influenced; they are a very reliable measure of brain function as most people will execute these movements in the same way day after