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Study finds counterintuitive father/son alcoholism link

Mouse research findings show a father's alcohol problem might not be the son's, at least genetically.
Photostock, Free Digital Photos, Used with permission

A son's susceptibility for an alcohol use disorder may actually drop if dad drinks abusively before conception according to University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine rodent research. The June 4 study results suggest male offspring might drink less.

The research finds mice chronically exposed to alcohol before breeding had male offspring that were less likely to consume alcohol and were more sensitive to its effects. This could be a fresh take on the prior human studies indicating that alcoholism can run in families, particularly father to son. Research student, Andrey Finegersh, noted, "We suspected that the offspring of alcohol exposed sires would have an enhanced taste for alcohol, which seems to be the pattern for humans. Whether the unexpected reduction in alcohol drinking that was observed is due to differences between species or the specific drinking model that was tested is unclear."

Lead researcher, Gregg E. Homanics, notes, "Rather than mutation of the genetic sequence, environmental factors might lead to changes that modify the activity of a gene, which is called epigenetics. Our mouse study shows that it is possible for alcohol to modify the dad's otherwise normal genes and influence consumption in his sons, but surprisingly not his daughters."

The researchers plan to examine other drinking models such as binge drinking, identify how alcohol modifies the genes, and explore why female offspring appear unaffected.

In the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study, male mice were exposed to ethanol vapor over five weeks, leading to blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) slightly higher than the .08 legal limit for U.S. drivers. The exposed mice were mated to females who had not been exposed to alcohol. Compared to those of ethanol-free fathers, adult male offspring of ethanol-exposed mice consumed less alcohol when it was made available and were less likely to choose to drink it over water. Also, they were more susceptible to drinking's affect on motor control and an alcohol-induced reduction of anxiety.

The UPMC study, while contradictory to human gene studies, does confirm that alcohol consumed and its acetaldehyde byproduct leave a biological imprint on your DNA. (See Dec. 2013 article) According to alcoholism book, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, the DNA change impacts the body's risk of more than 60 other diseases, beyond the disease of alcoholism. “Other diseases, like cancer, can surface later as a result of epigenetic changes. If the drinking doesn’t kill you immediately, it can kill you years down the road. Drinking often or in excess or both is like you’ve stepped out onto the highway: The truck just hasn’t hit you yet.”