The role of neurotrophin genes in gambling disorder

Dr. Fernando Fernández-Aranda

What was the goal of your research or experiment?

Gambling Disorder is caused by a complex interplay of biological, psychological and social factors. Earlier research has identified a possible role of neurotrophic factors in addiction-related disorders. Therefore, these factors could be a promising biomarker for Gambling Disorder. Neurotrophic factors are small proteins that play an important role in the growth, survival and development of brain cells. The main goal of this study was to explore the association between neurotrophic genes and Gambling Disorder. We hypothesized that certain variations in neurotrophin genes could constitute potential biological risk factors for this disorder

How did you measure or test this?

For this purpose, we selected a number of genes (pathway-based candidate genes) that are involved in or related to the functioning of neurotrophic factors. Then, we compared the genetic code between a group of 166 patients with Gambling Disorder and a group of 191 healthy control participants. We investigated which genetic variants were more frequent in the patient group, and therefore associated with Gambling Disorder.

What were the main results or findings?

We found several genetic differences between individuals with and without Gambling Disorder. One identified variant was located in the neurotrophin gene called NTF3, that is important for the survival of several types of brain cells. Interestingly, this genetic variant has been linked to affective disorders, schizophrenia and eating disorders in previous studies. Another gene that was identified was NTRK2. This gene works together with NTF3 in supporting brain cell survival and growth, and has also been linked to eating behaviours and energy balance. Thirdly, variants were found in the CNTFR gene, that is important for appetite and energy expenditure, but also plays a role in the functioning of neurotrophic factors.

What does this mean?

Our research supports the involvement of neurotrophic factors in Gambling Disorder. Variations in the genetic code of these factors can lead to alterations in their functioning, that may contribute to the risk of developing this disorder. These results give us a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that underly Gambling Disorders and other, related conditions such as Eating Disorders and high impulsivity.

What is the next step?

Further studies are needed to better understand the exact role of neurotrophin genes in Gambling Disorder, and their implication in specific psychological processes, such as impulsivity. Moreover, genetic studies using larger sample sizes are needed in order to identify new potential genetic markers of vulnerability for Gambling Disorder. Finally, epigenetics studies that investigate differences in gene regulation mechanisms are needed to identify novel altered gene regulatory mechanisms implicated in Gambling Disorder.

Publication information

Title: The role of neurotrophin genes involved in the vulnerability to gambling disorder

Authors: Neus Solé‐Morata, Isabel Baenas, Mikel Etxandi, RoserG ranero, Sonia V. Forcales, Manel Gené, Carme Barrot, Mónica Gómez‐Peña, José M. Menchón, Nicolás Ramoz, Philip Gorwood, Fernando Fernández‐Aranda & Susana Jiménez‐Murcia

Journal: Scientific Reports

Year: 2022