Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Genes for Coffee Cravings

A study of 120,000 people of European and African-American ancestry has identified the genes that determine how much satisfaction people can get from caffeine, as well as why coffee is implicated in a range of health conditions.

Six new regions of DNA associated with coffee-drinking behaviour were reported in Molecular Psychiatry, pointing to the molecular mechanisms that underlie why caffeine has different effects on different people.

“Some of the gene regions determine the amount of coffee that makes individuals feel they are satisfied psychologically and others physiologically,” said Dr Jennie Hui of The University of Western Australia. “What this tells us is that there may be a molecular mechanism at work behind the different health and pharmacological effects of coffee and its constituents.”

The authors of the study identified two loci, near genes BDNF and SLC6A4, that potentially reduce the level of satisfaction that we get from caffeine and may therefore lead to increased consumption. Other regions near the genes POR and ABCG2 are involved in promoting the metabolism of caffeine.

The authors also identified loci in GCKR and near MLXIPL, genes involved in metabolism but not previously linked to either metabolism or a behavioural trait such as coffee drinking. The authors suggest that variations in GCKR may impact the glucose-sensing process of the brain, which may in turn influence responses to caffeine or some other component of coffee.

The authors caution that further studies are required to determine the effects of these two loci on coffee drinking behaviour.