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7. Where that leaves us

People drinking at barBecause we humans share an evolutionary ancestor with mice about 65 million years ago, about 80-85% of mouse and human genomes -- the genetic makeup of each species -- is the same. When we find an important gene in mice, this leads us directly to the analogous gene in humans.

To date, we have identified one gene, called Mpdz, that is important for mouse alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is important because the negative symptoms of withdrawal, which include anxiety and depression, are strongly associated with relapse to drinking.

Collaborative studies are underway to see whether the Mpdz gene plays a role in human alcohol dependence, and PARC studies continue to home in on other genes important for drinking, withdrawal, and other alcohol-related traits.

So, by learning more about the genes that influence our behavior around alcohol, we learn more about the brain chemistry that tends to make some people more vulnerable to alcohol dependence. Understanding more about that, we believe, will one day enable us to develop new, specific drugs that can help treat dependent drinking.

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