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Dad's Alcoholism May Affect Son's Drinking Before Conception

Researchers anticipated an enhanced taste for alcohol, but were quite surprised by an unexpected outcome.

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By Victoria Kim

06/12/14

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A father’s excessive alcohol consumption could influence the pattern of his son’s drinking from before conception, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE last week. The study, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, involved exposing male mice to “intermittent ethanol vapor” over a period of five weeks, then mating them with females who were not exposed to any alcohol.

The outcome was unexpected. The male offspring to the mice exposed to alcohol consumed less alcohol when it was made available, and were less likely to choose to drink alcohol over water. “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 lead author Dr. Andrey 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.”

Senior investigator Dr. Gregg E. Homaniacs, Ph.D. said the study demonstrated that it is possible for alcohol to modify the father’s otherwise normal genes and influence consumption behavior in his sons, but not his daughters.

While previous research has indicated that genetic factors do influence alcoholism, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) noted that alcoholism is not solely determined by the genes inherited from parents. More than 50% of all children of alcoholics do not become alcoholic, and there are many other factors that influence the risk of developing alcoholism.

The next step for the researchers is to investigate why female offspring seem to be unaffected, how alcohol modifies genes, and alternative drinking models such as binge drinking.

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