Did an ancient virus ‘infect’ some people with drug addiction?

Traces of an Ancient Virus in Our Genes May Play a Role in Addiction

Traces of an Ancient Virus in Our Genes May Play a Role in Addiction

Addiction has strong links with an ancient retroviral infection, according to a new study that says its genetic traces in the human genome may influence certain addictive behaviors displayed by some people today. They discovered that Persons Who Inject Drugs (PWID) were found to more frequently have a specific HK2 that lives close to RASGRF2, and that the pathogenic burden of addictive behaviors can potentially be caused by HK2 integrations because HK2 manipulates nearby genes.

HK2 is present in all humans, but appears in the RASGRF2 gene in up to one in 10 people.

Researchers at the University of Oxford, U.K., and the National-Kapodistrian University of Athens, showed this type of HK2 can manipulate neighboring genes, including one which plays a role in how dopamine is released in the brain. Retroviruses can either spread exogenously between individuals, like HIV, or endogenously from parents to offspring, but they were not previously believed to be harmful in humans.

"However, we followed this up in a second completely independent cohort and also found the association there, and also performed laboratory experiments in a cell line that also confirmed our result", said Katzourakis. "From time to time, people have shown overexpression of HK2 in cancer, but it has been hard to distinguish cause from effect", said Gkikas Magiorkinis, from the University of Athens. Now, a new study by worldwide researchers suggests the virus is more frequently found in drug addicts, broadening the implications for addiction behavior. "Our study shows for the first time the rare variants of HK2 can affect a complex human trait". The resumption of this finding in Glasgow is particularly important. In 2012, following a 20-year dispute over the role of ancient viruses in human diseases, we made a decision to look at the high-risk hypothesis that HERV viruses can be responsible for human diseases.

In most cases, the genetic signature of these retroviruses is quite similar between different humans, even if they live in radically different zones, as there is a chance that their ancestors somehow contracted the virus at some point.

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"N$3 ow we have strong proof that HERVs can be pathogenic. For the first time, we are able to make a distinction between cause and effect in HERV pathogenicity".

Dr. Magiorkinis said: "Looking into this "dark" part of the genome will unlock more genomic secrets".

Following the discovery of HIV and HTLV, it is the third time that a human retrovirus is closely associated with a harmful effect on humans, such as addiction.

The researchers hope that by understanding the mechanistic-biochemical features of addictive behavior better pharmacological targets can be developed for drug development.

Future research will determine the impact of HK2 virus and what can be done to alter it for positive results.

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