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Blood test linked to alcoholism risk.

Blood test linked to alcoholism risk

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have added another candidate to the growing list of potential biological markers associated with an increased risk for developing alcoholism. Further research on the new marker--an alcohol derivative known as phosphatidylethanol -- may lead to a simple blood test to screen to susceptibility to alcoholism, report Gerald C. Mueller and his colleagues in the Dec. 21 PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES.

The linkage resulted from a chance finding in 1982, when Mueller's research team was studying ways to regulate the growth of cancer cells. They observed that when they applied chemical compounds called phorbol esters to cancerous cells, the cells produced a substance later identified as phosphatidylethanol. This alcohol by-product appeared because alcohol was used as a solvent in the experiments.

The scientists' discovery shifted their attention to alcoholism. In a pilot study, they conducted blood tests on 25 alcoholic men from 18 to 52 years old and 24 nonalcoholic men with no family history of the disorder, ranging in age from 20 to 48 years. They recruited only men because other studies suggest men have a greater risk of inheriting a predisposition to alcoholism.

Almost half the alcoholics registered phosphatidylethanol levels about twice those observed in the nonalcoholic group and in the remaining alcoholics. Those with elevated levels may have an inherited propensity to produce more of the alcohol by-product, Mueller says. To explore this possibility, the researchers are now examining phosphatidylethanol levels in member of 100 families. The sample includes women as well as siblings and children of alcoholics and nonalcoholics.

Another potential blood test for susceptibility to alcoholism targets abnormal responses of two enzymes found in blood platelets (SN: 1/30/88, p. 69). Evidence also suggests that sons of alcoholics have unusually low blood levels of the hormone cortisol after drinking, indicating they have a less intense biological reaction to alcohol (SN: 11/21/87, p.324).
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 7, 1989
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