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VCU researchers identify networks of genes responding to alcohol in the brain

RICHMOND, Va. (March 2, 2005) Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have identified several genetic changes in the brains of mice caused by ethanol, which may help researchers better understand how and why people become addicted to alcohol.

In the March issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers reported significant differences in the gene expression patterns regulated by alcohol in two mouse strains known as B6 and D2. The two mouse strains differ in a number of behavioral responses to acute alcohol and in their predisposition to drink alcohol.

Researchers isolated tissue from three different regions of the brain that are all known to play a role in responses to alcohol and other drugs of abuse. Using DNA microarrays, which measure the activity of more than 10,000 genes simultaneously, together with large databases of other biological information, researchers were able to identify several genes regulated by alcohol that may play a role in determining genetic differences in behavioral responses to alcohol.

"These findings help us to better understand the molecular basis for genetic differences in behavioral response to alcohol and may eventually lead to new therapeutic approaches for alcoholism," said Michael Miles, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in pharmacology, toxicology and neurology, who also has an appointment in VCU Life Sciences' Center for the Study of Biological Complexity.

Gene expression refers to how much a given gene is "turned on," eventually leading to more or less protein being produced by that particular gene. Changes in a gene's expression are thought to be an important mechanism underlying long-term memory and learning, including that which occurs with addiction to alcohol or other drugs, Miles said.

In the study, approximately 400 genes were identified as alcohol regulated in at least one brain region of either mouse strain. According to Miles, most of these genes showed regulation in only one o
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Contact: Anne Buckley
albuckley@vcu.edu
804-828-6052
Virginia Commonwealth University
1-Mar-2005


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