Researcher Finds Genetic Chromosome That Contributes To Stress, Possible Drug-taking Behavior

September 1, 2009

A Baylor University researcher has found a set of genes that modulates stress responses that could cause some people to take drugs, specifically alcohol consumption.

The study by Dr. Doug Matthews, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, appeared in the journal Behavior Genetics. Matthews' research paper was awarded the Fulker Award from the Behavior Genetics Association for the best paper published in the journal in 2008.

Matthews found a small section on chromosome one that is responsive to a particular type of stress in animal models. The researchers then identified the genes in this region that could be responsible for the behavioral response to stress, like alcohol consumption.

The study is the first to pinpoint a region on the chromosomes that could be responsible for modulating stress responses involved in complex behaviors like drug abuse.

"This study gives us insight into a common genetic pathway for stress that might be critical in modulating drug-taking behavior, especially alcohol consumption, since many people report drinking alcohol to reduce stress," Matthews said. "It also gave us some ideas on where to look in the brain for drug taking behavior, and it provided a method to do so."

Matthews said the researchers used a unique method to do the project by selecting chromosomes from one particular strain of mice and embedding them inside the background of a host strain. He pointed out this sophisticated genetic manipulation allowed them to target specific chromosomes so they could get a much more powerful genetic answer.

Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee and University of British Columbia also contributed to the study.