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Is drinking in your genes?

As part of an international study, researchers from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) have identified a gene that appears to play a role in regulating how much alcohol people drink.

Professor Nick Martin said that finding a common genetic variation influencing levels of alcohol consumption may lead to a better understanding of mechanisms underlying alcohol drinking behaviour in the general population.

“Although many of the influences on alcohol drinking are non-genetic (reflecting societal, lifestyle, and behavioural influences), there is also an important genetic component. Our research has found that a small genetic change can lead to increased consumption of alcohol,” said Professor Nick Martin from QIMR’s Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory.

The gene, called autism susceptibility candidate 2, or AUTS2, has previously been linked to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“The gene is most active in parts of the brain associated with neuropsychological reward mechanisms, suggesting that it might play a part in the positive feelings that people have when they drink alcohol.”

The study of over 47,000 people found that there are two versions of the AUTS2 gene, one three times more common than the other. People with the less common version drink on average 5% less alcohol than people with the more common version.

Alcohol drinking accounts for 9% of the disease burden in developed countries and is linked to more than 60 diseases, including cancers, cardiovascular diseases, liver cirrhosis, neuropsychiatric disorders, injuries, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

The study was conducted by an international consortium led by scientists at Imperial College London and King’s College London.

The paper will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is available at