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CRISPR disruption and UK Biobank analysis of a highly conserved polymorphic enhancer suggests a role in male anxiety and alcohol intake.

McEwan, Andrew R and Davidson, Connor and Hay, Elizabeth and Turnbull, Yvonne and Erickson, Johanna Celene and Marini, Pietro and Wilson, Dana and McIntosh, Andrew M and Adams, Mark J and Murgatroyd, Christopher and Barrett, Perry and Delibegovic, Miela and Clarke, Toni-Kim and MacKenzie, Alasdair (2020) CRISPR disruption and UK Biobank analysis of a highly conserved polymorphic enhancer suggests a role in male anxiety and alcohol intake. Molecular Psychiatry.

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Abstract

Excessive alcohol intake is associated with 5.9% of global deaths. However, this figure is especially acute in men such that 7.6% of deaths can be attributed to alcohol intake. Previous studies identified a significant interaction between genotypes of the galanin (GAL) gene with anxiety and alcohol abuse in different male populations but were unable to define a mechanism. To address these issues the current study analysed the human UK Biobank cohort and identified a significant interaction (n = 115,865; p = 0.0007) between allelic variation (GG or CA genotypes) in the highly conserved human GAL5.1 enhancer, alcohol intake (AUDIT questionnaire scores) and anxiety in men. Critically, disruption of GAL5.1 in mice using CRISPR genome editing significantly reduced GAL expression in the amygdala and hypothalamus whilst producing a corresponding reduction in ethanol intake in KO mice. Intriguingly, we also found the evidence of reduced anxiety-like behaviour in male GAL5.1KO animals mirroring that seen in humans from our UK Biobank studies. Using bioinformatic analysis and co-transfection studies we further identified the EGR1 transcription factor, that is co-expressed with GAL in amygdala and hypothalamus, as being important in the protein kinase C (PKC) supported activity of the GG genotype of GAL5.1 but less so in the CA genotype. Our unique study uses a novel combination of human association analysis, CRISPR genome editing in mice, animal behavioural analysis and cell culture studies to identify a highly conserved regulatory mechanism linking anxiety and alcohol intake that might contribute to increased susceptibility to anxiety and alcohol abuse in men.

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