Taste Gene Could Encourage Alcoholism

Genetic research is linking alcoholism with a gene that controls how bitter individuals perceive foods to be. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis analyzed DNA samples from 262 families, each of which had at least three family members who were alcoholics. The team zeroed in on a single base variation in a taste receptor gene called TAS2R16, located on chromosome 7. "In earlier work, we had identified chromosome 7 as a region where there was likely to be a gene influencing alcoholism risk," principal investigator Alison M. Goate, a professor of genetics, explained in a prepared statement. "There's a cluster of bitter-taste receptor genes on that chromosome, and there have been several papers suggesting drinking behaviors might be influenced by variations within taste receptors. So we decided to look closely at these taste receptor genes," Goate said. When the researchers conducted cell culture experiments on the bitter taste receptor produced by the TAS2R16 gene variant, they found it was less responsive to bitter compounds. Goate's team plan to do human taste tests to determine if people with this gene variant are less sensitive to bitter tastes. The study appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics.

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