Researchers have identified a specific gene that links impulsive behaviour to binge drinking in teenagers and has also been associated with other impulsivity-related disorders like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Being a little rebellious or adventurous is common among teenagers but some of them may develop riskier behaviour, such as binge drinking or drug taking which can follow them into adulthood with all the health concerns that go with them.
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.
"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.
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 - adolescents of around 14 years old, 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.