London: Tensed over your son turning into an alcoholic? Or, your husband’s increased intake of alcohol? May be ‘TLR4’ can help you as scientists have found out that this particular protein could be a target for the development of drugs for alcohol dependence. So, now it’s clear that alcoholism no longer runs in the family but is a genetic habit.

Scientists have identified a "binge-drinking" gene which they say offers new hope in combating the growing social problem.

Earlier it was not clear whether the alcoholism link between family members was cultural or genetic. But, researchers at the Maryland University in the US identified a protein, called TLR4, which triggers the desire to drink in people.

The protein, which is found in the brain region known as the amygdala, could be a target for the development of drugs for alcohol dependence, said Harry June, a professor in psychology who led the study.

The study indicates that TLR4 expression "contributes to binge drinking and may be a key early neuro-adaptation in excessive drinking", Prof June was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

For the study, the researchers carried out tests on rats that preferred alcohol. They found that the mice had "profound and selective reduction of binge drinking" when production of TLR4 was manipulated.

When they artificially stimulated the TLR4 and other brain receptors in order to simulate the good feeling binge drinkers feel when drinking alcohol, the rats lost interest in alcohol for two weeks after the procedure.

The amygdala -- known as the pleasure centre of the brain -- is responsible for regulating the emotions and has been linked to alcohol addiction in the past.

"Binge drinking is a significant public health burden in need of improved treatment," said Prof June.

"Gene therapy may offer beneficial alternatives to current psycho-social and pharmaco-therapeutic interventions but identification of the target genes is a clinical challenge."

Binge-drinking, most common among younger people, is defined as eight or more units of alcohol in one session for a man, and more than six units for a woman.

Studies have shown a large amount of alcohol over a short period is worse for your health than drinking little and often because it places a bigger strain on the liver.

Long-term risks include cancer, heart disease and stroke, as well as cirrhosis of the liver. The death rate due to acute intoxication has doubled in the past 20 years for both sexes.

The researchers said they are yet to find out the TLR4's potential contribution to binge drinking.

The new findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(Agencies)