Genetics of Drinking Behavior
Dr. Todd Thiele, Department of Psychology, UNC-CH, uses genetically altered animal models to focus on genes associated with an inherited propensity to develop uncontrollable drinking. Thiele takes aim at the complex genetic factors that control voluntary alcohol consumption, a key component in the development of an uncontrollable urge to drink more and more alcohol. Using knockout mice (created when a gene is “knocked out” of the code, resulting in animals that lack the protein expressed by that gene) and transgenic mice (created by adding or replacing a gene), he is revealing the ways in which certain genes affect alcohol drinking.
Areas of Research
- One line of Thiele's research has focused on a protein called neuropeptide Y (NPY), which is distributed throughout the nervous system and is believed to modulate neurons involved in feeding behavior, anxiety, and depression.
- A second line of research has focused on the intracellular second messenger, cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA).
Early research indicates that alcohol influences PKA function. With PKA knockout mice, Thiele showed that PKA signaling also modulates voluntary alcohol drinking and some of its intoxicating effects. Together, this research promises to bring us one step closer to mapping out the genetic patterns associated with alcoholism.