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Dad's Alcohol Consumption Could Influence Sons' Drinking: Study

Update Date: Jun 05, 2014 11:42 AM EDT

A son's vulnerability for alcohol use, later in life could be shaped by a father who regularly drinks to excess, a new study has suggested. 

The study noted that male mice that were chronically exposed to alcohol before breeding had male offspring that were less likely to consume alcohol while being more sensitive to its effects. The study provides new insight into inheritance and development of drinking behaviors. 

Previous human studies indicate that alcoholism can run in families, particularly father to son, but to date only a few gene variants have been associated with Alcohol Use Disorder and they account for only a small fraction of the risk of inheriting the problem, said senior investigator Gregg E. Homanics, Ph.D., professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology & chemical biology, Pitt School of Medicine, in the press release.

"We examined whether a father's exposure to alcohol could alter expression of the genes he passed down to his children," Dr. Homanics said. "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."

Researchers said they now plan to examine other drinking models like binge drinking and identify how alcohol modifies the genes. They would also explore why female offspring appear unaffected. 

The findings of the study have been published in the PLoS ONE. 

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