The extent to which genetic expression is fixed at birth is not entirely understood. Some lines of research have been exploring the possibility that life choices affect the epigenetic make up of an individual. This would lend evidence to the hypothesis that a “live” genetic capacity to adapt to the environment is a fact. This appears to be the case according to Alcohol Research specialist Subhash C. Pandey. The PhD professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, has been involved in research that is shedding light on how life choices during adolescence impact human gene expression in adulthood. The findings are an important addition to current understanding of epigenetics and maybe even evolution given the likely interaction between genetic and environmental factors in the emergence of new phenotypes.
Adolescent binge drinking linked to adult psychiatric disorders
The findings stem from research on alcoholic drinking behavior and its relationship with anxiety disorder. Binge drinking is a major public health issue. In the US alone, it is estimated that one third of adolescents engage in the habit. Learning how exactly such an unhealthy habit at a young age impacts later life prospects is very important.
It is already known that excessive alcohol consumption on a regular basis imparts many negative effects to health later in life. This groundbreaking study is the first one to show that, in addition to the changes in brain chemistry, binge drinking at a young age influences the genetic expression of certain psychological pathologies during adulthood, thus, unraveling a detailed view over the genetic mechanisms behind the relationship between alcohol consumption and mental disorders.
Scientists found that adolescent heavy drinkers unknowingly alter the histone deacetylases and demethylases enzymes later in adulthood to the extent that several processes involved in genetic expression are affected.
As a result, there is a deregulation of synaptic events. These epigenetic events are responsible for the higher predisposition to psychological disorders such as anxiety, which is highly co-morbid with alcoholism, as well as further alcohol abuse. Dr. Subhash C. Pandey presented his work at the Research Society on Alcoholism’s 40th annual scientific meeting in Denver.
An important epigenetic breakthrough
Pandey’s previous work had already found evidence of an epigenetic influence of alcohol drinking on animals (rats). Now he confirms similar results on humans, firmly establishing alcohol as one of the substances that can alter the genes of an individual during lifetime with potentially dangerous consequences.
A deeper insight into how an individual can affect her/his own genes by drinking much alcohol is not only important to understand the onset of psychiatric diseases but also a potential sea of opportunities to promote individual health in previously unsuspected ways.