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Is Addiction Due to Ancient Retrovirus?

New research from an international team led by Oxford University has argued an ancient retrovirus – HK2 – is more frequently found in drug addicts and thus is significantly associated with addiction.

The human genome is littered with remnants of ancient retrovirus infections that invaded the germline of our primate ancestors.

Only one of these may still be proliferating in modern humans: HERV-K HML-2 (HK2).

One specific uncommon HK2, which lies close to a gene involved in dopaminergic activity in the brain (RASGRF2), is more frequently found in drug addicts and thus is significantly associated with addiction, according to the study.

The research team have shown that HK2 can manipulate nearby genes.

Read: From Addiction & Victimhood to Awakening

Professor Katzourakis from the University of Oxford who co-directed the study said: ‘We know of clear biological roles for a small number of human endogenous retroviruses.

“However, there has never before been strong evidence in support of a role in human biology of an endogenous retrovirus that is unfixed, in other words not shared by all individuals in the population.

“Our study shows for the first time that rare variants of HK2 can affect a complex human trait.

“The replication of this finding in the distinct Athens and Glasgow cohorts is particularly important.’

The integration of the virus predates the emergence of modern humans, as it has been found in Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes, and therefore it is not the behaviour of PWIDs that determines the presence of the virus.

By providing support for a strong genetic predisposition of addictive behaviour, the Oxford research team advocates in support of medical-pharmacological interventions in support of addicts.

Their study shows that new sequencing technologies and large genomic projects such as the 100,000 genomes project will deliver enhanced understanding of genetic features that were previously not well-understood.

Dr Magiorkinis who also took part in the research said: “Looking into this ‘dark’ part of the genome will unlock more genomic secrets.”

Read more: Uni of Cambridge – Biology ‘Significant’ in Addiction

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