Source of Addiction May Be an Ancient Retrovirus

Source of Addiction May Be an Ancient Retrovirus

A fascinating discovery by a team of scientists in Greece and England may hold the key to solving mankind’s historic tendency towards uncontrolled addictive behavior.

The team, from Oxford University and University of Athens examined the DNA of drug users chosen randomly in two major metropolitan centers. The study discovered that addicts were three times more likely than the general population to have traces of an ancient retrovirus, called “HK2,” in a specific gene in their DNA.

The virus was found in 34 percent of drug users tested in Glasgow, Scotland, compared to 9.5 percent of the local population, and in 14 percent of users in Athens, Greece, compared to 6 percent of the general population.

A retrovirus inserts DNA into the genome of its host, and changes things around more to its liking, so to speak. Human Endogenous Retrovirus-K HML-2, (HERV-K HML-2, or simply HK2, for short) dates back at least 250,000 years, to at least the age of Neanderthals and possibly earlier. And in about 5 to 10 percent of modern humans, it’s found in a gene near to the gene involved in dopamine production. It’s called the RASGRF2 gene, the “pleasure gene,” because it boosts production of dopamine.

In case you’ve forgotten, dopamine is the neurotransmitter or hormone that “opens the door” to increased pursuit of pleasurable activity, something that appears to lead many to addiction.

According to the researchers, HK2 would also be associated with positive activity carried out in a highly motivated and determined way. One thinks of artists of all kinds, driven to constantly create in spite of obstacles in their way.

Ancient infection affecting us today?

“The human genome is ‘littered’ with remnants of ancient retrovirus infections that invaded the germ line of our ancestors,” said the researchers. “Only one of these may still be proliferating, named HERV-K HML-2, or HK2. Not all humans have the same HK2 viruses in their genomes. Here we show that one specific uncommon HK2, which lies close to a gene involved in dopaminergic activity in the brain, is more frequently found in drug addicts and thus is significantly associated with addiction.”

The 5 to 10 percent of the population with the HK2 gene embedded in their RASGRF2 gene are more likely to pursue addictive behavior, they said. And according to the CDC, the WHO and others, that’s roughly the same percentage of people found around the world to have addiction problems, such as substance use disorder, gambling addiction, sex addiction, and on and on.

This is the third time, the study authors said, that a retrovirus has been linked to destructive effects in humans. The earlier two findings are the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS, and the human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV) which causes adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma and a rare myelopathy, or spinal cord disease.

Binge drinkers too, and maybe a cure

This study became even more interesting when we learned that, back in 2012, researchers found the HK2 virus embedded in the RASGRF2 gene among the same high percentage of binge drinkers as those in the current study of drug users. The alcohol researchers clearly showed addictive alcohol behavior associated with RASGRF2.

The current researchers have broadened the picture, finding the same situation with drugs.

In both studies, researchers hinted at research that might someday find therapies that eliminate some of the negative impulses towards destructive addictive behavior.

Of course, the observable truth is this: In spite of what might or might not be happening in someone’s DNA or some stray gene, people can – and do – rise above negative impulses to get their lives back, free of substance abuse.

Here at Novus, we deal with substance use dependencies and addictions 24-7, and we see this happen every day of the week.

So if you, or someone you care for, is struggling under the influence of substance use disorder, don’t blame some ancient genetic code. It can be overcome. Just call Novus at (855) 464-8550 right away.

Related Posts:

Start Your New Path to Sobriety Today!

    • Please enter your name.
    • This isn't a valid phone number.
    • Please enter your email address.
      This isn't a valid email address.
    • Please make a selection.
    • Please enter a message.