Now we know what makes teens indulge in risky, impulsive behaviour

  • IANS, London
  • Updated: May 13, 2016 17:57 IST
Variations in KALRN gene are responsible for both alcohol binge drinking and brain activation during impulsive responding in adolescents, finds a new study. (Istock)

A specific gene that makes teenagers behave impulsively has been identified and held responsible for causing related problems in them such as binge drinking and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The findings showed that variations in KALRN gene are responsible for both alcohol binge drinking and brain activation during impulsive responding in adolescents.

The gene codes for a protein called Kalirin — essential to the development of the nervous system, especially the formation of dendritic spines that are important for the ability of nerve cells to communicate with each other.

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“These results provide a novel insight into the possible neurobiological and genetic determinants of impulsivity and alcohol abuse,” said lead researcher Yolanda Pena-Oliver from University of Sussex in Britain.

The gene has also been linked with other impulsivity-related disorders, like drug abuse or ADHD.

The identification of this gene opens the door to a potential “screening” of patients and would allow scientists and doctors to predict impulsivity-related disorders like binge drinking, drug abuse or ADHD, allowing appropriate and timely treatment, Pena-Oliver noted.

In the study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Genetics, the team first identified the genes that were linked to impulsive behaviour in mice.

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The mice were assessed for their ability to wait to obtain a reward and those that responded too quickly lost their reward. All were scored on a scale for “impulsivity”.

The study then looked at the same genes in human participants — 14 year old adolescents, who were in a similar test to the mice, asked to respond to cues in order to receive a reward.

Along with the tests, they also underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. The teenagers were then rated, as per the mice, according to their premature response — or impulsivity, and their genetic profile was investigated for any correlations.

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