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Enzymes and alcoholism: blood simple?

Enzymes and alcoholism: Blood simple?

Is there a relatively simple blood test that can help verify whether someone is an alcoholic? According to a new report, the answer may be yes.

The test combines measures of two chemical compounds, known as enzymes, that are found in blood platelets, say molecular pharmacologist Boris Tabakoff of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md., and his colleagues. After taking blood samples from 95 male alcoholics and 33 nonalcoholic men, and saturating the samples with alcohol, the researchers found that the activity of one enzyme, monoamine oxidase, decreased significantly more among the alcoholics. The activity of the other enzyme, adenylate cyclase, was substantially lower among the alcoholics than among the nonalcoholics after blood samples were exposed to cesium fluoride, a substance that stimulates this enzyme.

Furthermore, adenylate cyclase activity stimulated by cesium fluoride was abnormally low among 10 alcoholics in the sample who had abstained from alcohol for one to four years.

The tests correctly identified three-quarters of the alcoholics and nonalcoholics when calculations of the enzyme responses were combined for each subject, the scientists note in their report in the Jan. 21 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.

Further refinement of the test procedures can be expected, writes psychiatrist Theodore Reich of the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis in an accompanying editorial, "so they hold great promise for the development of convenient specific laboratory measures of alcohol abuse and dependence."

This approach might simply provide a means for identifying individuals who drink a lot--certainly a welcome advance for physicians trying to uncover the alcohol consumption histories of their patients, says Tabakoff.

It is also possible, says Tabakoff, that the abnormal enzyme activity marks an inherent predisposition to alcohol abuse. To test this possibility, he is now organizing a study of children of alcoholics to see if abnormal platelet-enzyme activity is present among people thought to be genetically susceptible to alcoholism.

There is reason to suspect, notes Tabakoff, that alcoholics in the present study had a less heritable form of the disorder, known as Type I alcoholism, in which environmental stress plays a larger role and close relatives are often not alcoholic. Type I alcoholism occurs in both men and women, often after age 25. Type II alcoholism, on the other hand, has a greater hereditary influence. It appears mainly among sons of male alcoholics before age 25, along with frequent bouts of aggressive and violent behavior.

Although alcoholics had abnormal monoamine oxidase activity after their platelets were saturated with alcohol, the activity of this enzyme before alcohol saturation was comparable in alcoholics and nonalcoholics. Other researchers have found that baseline measures of monoamine oxidase activity are abnormally low only among Type II alcoholics.

Tabakoff is currently analyzing enzyme-test responses of Type I and Type II alcoholics who were studied in a collaboration with Swedish researchers.

Another goal of further research is to establish whether the lapses in enzyme activity occur only among alcoholics or if they also appear in individuals with related psychiatric diagnoses, such as depression.
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Title Annotation:new blood test may help verify whether someone is an alcoholic
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 30, 1988
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