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

Andrew Mcewan, Elisabeth Hay, Connor Davidson, Yvonne Turnbull, Johanna Celene Erickson, Pietro Marini, Dana Wilson, Andrew M. McIntosh, Mark J. Adams, Chris Murgatroyd, Perry Barrett, Mirela Delibegovic, Toni-Kim Clarke, Alasdair MacKenzie* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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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 that was consistent with these previous studies. 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 evidence of reduced anxiety-like behaviour in male GAL5.1KO animals mirroring that seen in humans. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
Early online date13 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note


We would like to thank Wenlong Huang, Giuseppe D’Agostino and the staff of the
University of Aberdeen Medical Research Facility for their help and advice with the animal tests. AMcE was funded by BBSRC project grant (BB/N017544/1) and EH was funded by Medical Research Scotland (PhD-719-2013). PB and DW are funded by the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division to the Rowett Institute. Association studies were conducted using the UK Biobank Resource: application number 4844 and was supported by a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award ‘Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally’ (STRADL) (Reference 104036/Z/14/Z). Dedicated to the memory of my brother Angus MacKenzie (1963-2018).


  • UK Biobank
  • CRISPR genome editing
  • tissue-specific enhancer
  • galanin
  • ethanol intake
  • anxiety
  • PKC
  • EGR1


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