Study IDs new genetic links to impulsivity, alcohol problems in men

November 16, 2011, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Being impulsive can lead us to say things we regret, buy things we really don't need, engage in behaviors that are risky and even develop troublesome addictions. But are different kinds of hastiness and rashness embedded in our DNA?

A new study suggests the answer is yes -- especially if you're a man.

The research, led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor of psychology Scott Stoltenberg, found links between impulsivity and a rarely researched gene called NRXN3. The gene plays an important role in and in how neurons function.

The newly discovered connection, which was more prevalent among men than women in the study, may help explain certain inclinations toward alcohol or , Stoltenberg said.

"Impulsivity is an important underlying mechanism in addiction," he said. "Our finding that NRXN3 is part of the causal pathway toward addiction is an important step in identifying the underlying of this key ."

For the study, researchers measured impulsivity levels in nearly 450 participants -- 65 percent women, 35 percent men -- via a wide range of tests. Then, they compared those results with from each participant. They found that impulsivity was significantly higher in those who regularly used tobacco or who had alcohol or drug problems.

The results, interestingly, also came down along gender lines. In men, two connections clearly emerged; first, between a particular form of the NRXN3 gene and attentional impulsivity, and second, between another NRXN3 variant and . The connections for women, meanwhile, were much weaker.

Stoltenberg said the gender-specific results are a rich area for further study.

"We can't really say what causes these patterns of association to be different in men and women. But our findings will be critical as we continue to improve our understanding of the pathways from specific genes to health-risk behaviors," he said.

The researchers were interested in impulsivity because the trait can predispose people to any number of behavioral problems -- , behavior control, failing to plan ahead or think through consequences of actions -- and settled on the role of NXRN3 from previous, recent studies.

While the results add important new evidence to the genetic role in impulsivity and, in turn, its role in substance abuse, researchers were careful to not claim a perfect cause-and-effect relationship. Impulsivity may interact with sensitivity to alcohol, for one example, or anxiety, for another, to create complex pathways to substance use problems in both men and women.

"If you're working to explain how genes are associated with something like (substance) dependence, you have to connect a lot of dots," Stoltenberg said. "There's a big gap between genes and a substance use disorder. is one factor to such problems -- not the only factor."

Explore further: Study finds quitting smoking enhances personality change

More information: The study appears in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Related Stories

Study finds quitting smoking enhances personality change

September 12, 2011
University of Missouri researchers have found evidence that shows those who quit smoking show improvements in their overall personality.

Impulsive versus controlled men: Disinhibited brains and disinhibited behavior

November 3, 2011
Impulsive individuals tend to display aggressive behavior and have challenges ranging from drug and alcohol abuse, to problem gambling and difficult relationships. They are less able to adapt to different social situations. ...

Recommended for you

Peers' genes may help friends stay in school, new study finds

January 18, 2018
While there's scientific evidence to suggest that your genes have something to do with how far you'll go in school, new research by a team from Stanford and elsewhere says the DNA of your classmates also plays a role.

Two new breast cancer genes emerge from Lynch syndrome gene study

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian have identified two new breast cancer genes. Having one of the genes—MSH6 and PMS2—approximately doubles a woman's risk of developing breast ...

A centuries-old math equation used to solve a modern-day genetics challenge

January 18, 2018
Researchers developed a new mathematical tool to validate and improve methods used by medical professionals to interpret results from clinical genetic tests. The work was published this month in Genetics in Medicine.

Can mice really mirror humans when it comes to cancer?

January 18, 2018
A new Michigan State University study is helping to answer a pressing question among scientists of just how close mice are to people when it comes to researching cancer.

Group recreates DNA of man who died in 1827 despite having no body to work with

January 16, 2018
An international team of researchers led by a group with deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, has partly recreated the DNA of a man who died in 1827, despite having no body to take tissue samples from. ...

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.