A hormonal link between the liver and brain that regulates alcohol consumption may help scientists develop new treatments for problem drinkers, according to new research.
Scientists have shown for the first time how a liver hormone called FGF21 plays an important role in setting our drink limits.
DNA samples were analysed from more than 105,000 people of European descent, who were also questioned about their weekly drinking habits.
The study highlighted interaction between FGF21 and a gene in the brain called beta-Klotho.
In about 40% of participants, a particular beta-Klotho variant was associated with reduced alcohol consumption.
Further studies showed that mice lacking the gene altogether were significantly more attracted to alcohol.
The findings suggest that FGF21's influence on alcohol consumption largely depends on beta-Klotho activity.
Professor Gunter Schumann from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London said: “Our study reveals a previously unrecognised liver-brain pathway which regulates alcohol consumption in humans, and which could one day be targeted therapeutically to suppress consumption in problem drinkers.
“The results point towards an intriguing feedback loop, where FGF21 is produced in the liver in response to sugar and alcohol intake, which then acts directly on the brain to limit consumption.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that beta-Klotho acts by affecting neighbouring genes, so further genetic studies are warranted."
Co-author Professor Paul Elliott, from Imperial College London, said: “Our findings may eventually lead to new treatments for people whose health is being harmed by drinking."
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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