Fathers’ Alcohol Consumption Influences Sons’

AlcoholEven before conception, a son’s vulnerability for alcohol use disorders (AUDs) may be shaped by whether or not their father chronically drinks.[1] The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine published their findings from a new animal study in PLOS ONE.1 They found that male mice who were chronically exposed to alcohol before breeding had male offspring that were less likely to consume alcohol and were more sensitive to its effects.1 This finding provides new insight into inheritance and development of drinking behaviors.1

Previous human studies have also indicated that alcoholism can run in families, particularly with fathers and sons; however, only a few gene variants have been associated with AUDs to date, and they only account for a small fraction of the risk.1

“We examined whether a father’s exposure to alcohol could alter expression of the genes he passed down to his children,” said senior investigator Gregg E. Homanics, PhD, professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology at the Pittsburg School of Medicine. “Rather than mutation of the genetic sequence, environmental factors might lead to changes that modify the activity of a gene, which is called epigenetics. Our mouse study shows that it is possible for alcohol to modify the dad’s otherwise normal genes and influence consumption in his sons, but surprisingly not his daughters.”1

In the study, Homanics and lead author Andrey Finegersh, MD, PhD, chronically exposed male mice to intermittent ethanol vapor over five weeks, leading to blood alcohol levels slightly higher than the legal limit for human drivers.1 Then, they mated them to females who had not been exposed to alcohol.1 Compared to those of ethanol-free sires, adult male offspring of ethanol-exposed mice consumed less alcohol when it was made available and were less likely to choose to drink it over water.1 Also, they were more susceptible to alcohol effects on motor control and reduction of anxiety.1

“We suspected that the offspring of alcohol exposed sires would have an enhanced taste for alcohol, which seems to be the pattern for humans,” said Finegersh. “Whether the unexpected reduction in alcohol drinking that was observed is due to differences between species or the specific drinking model that was tested is unclear.”1

[1] University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. (2014, June 4). Dad’s alcohol consumption before conception could influence sons’ drinking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140604203151.htm

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