Alcoholism Research: CRISPR Gene Editing May Be Able to Repair Damage From Early Alcohol Usage

Scientists may have evidence that a new CRISPR gene editing method can potentially help in the fight against damage caused to the human body by chronic drinking and alcoholism.

Specifically, they are investigating the expression of a gene that is diminished in people who have been exposed to alcohol earlier in their life.

The research has to do with brain chemistry in the brain’s amygdala, which is about the shape of an almond. This is the portion of the brain known to control our pleasure and fear responses. It operates the same way in humans and rats, so scientists can conduct genetic experiments on rodents to see if they might be able to help humans.

This is of enormous interest to those in the scientific community who are waging the fight against alcoholism. Most recently, Subhash Pandey, director of the Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics at the University of Illinois Chicago, published a new study about using CRISPR to edit genes in rats in Science Advances in May, as noted by Wired.

About CRISPR and Gene Editing

CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, first came into broader public awareness back in 2012. That’s when Sam Sternberg and Jennifer Doudna reported on their ground-breaking effort in editing living cells in humans to repair genetic defects that cause disorders.

Scientists are conducting experiments to understand how they might use CRISPR to come up with new therapies. One area of research has to do with the effects of alcohol on the human body during early exposure. Those involved in treating alcoholism and repairing the damage that occurs because of this early exposure will want to monitor efforts in rodent experiments using CRISPR gene editing in the context of epigenetics.

CRISPR Gene Editing and Epigenetics

Epigenetics has to do with changes occurring in our DNA, which have an effect on how genes are expressed. Examples of epigenetic influences include the choices of food you eat every day or smoking cigarettes.

A record of exposures to various substances in the environment, so to speak, is found in our genes’ molecular memory, as reported by Wired. It noted that Pandey and colleagues at the University of Illinois Chicago were investigating the role played by binge drinking among adolescents in changes in the amygdala’s brain chemistry.

In their research, the scientists discovered evidence that alcohol exposure in early life apparently reduces the expression of a gene known as “Arc.” The Arc gene helps to regulate brain plasticity, which refers to how the brain can adapt in response to life experiences (such as early exposure to ethyl alcohol in alcoholic beverages).

Scientists already know that when a child experiences a decrease in the expression of Arc, they will be more likely to experience anxiety as well as alcohol use disorder when they become adults. For the Illinois study, they used CRISPR to increase Arc expression in rats and found that the rats then grew less anxious and consumed less alcohol.

Alcohol Abuse Is Only One Condition for Which Scientists Are Investigating CRISPR Gene Editing

The notion that we will be able to repair damage in the body caused by early binge drinking of alcohol should raise the spirits of those engaged in battling the ill effects of this substance.

Medical professionals who focus on treating alcoholism will want to keep an eye on the research being done in this area with CRISPR. But the epigenetic editing under investigation for early alcohol usage may have utility in treating a wide range of ailments, noted Wired, such as genetic diseases and cancer.