A retrovirus infected our precursors eons ago, and a recent study notes that traces of the retrovirus that can be found in the genome of select individuals may silently ‘’nudge’’ them to become addicted.
Traces of a retrovirus called HK2 are often found in the genetic structures of people addicted to drugs, in comparison to people that have no addictions, and they may influence the self-destructive behavior to some degree.
Retrovirus, like HK2 and HIV, survives by injecting their genetic code into the DNA of the host. Rough estimations agree that 8% of the human genome is in fact filled with traces of long-lost retroviruses, which plagued our ancestors’ ages ago.
In most cases, the genetic signature of these retroviruses is quite similar between different humans, even if they live in radically different zones, as there is a chance that their ancestors somehow contracted the virus at some point. In the case of the HK2 retrovirus, traces can be found in only 5% to 10% of the world’s population, which means that the virus is quite recent.
In order to test the theory, researchers from UK and Greece decided to analyze the genome of drug addicts that contacted spreadable disease like HIV and hepatitis C. People that contracted the disease from contaminated syringes were more prone to have traces of HK2 in their genome in comparison to people that got infected in a different situation.
HK2 is closely linked to a gene that influences the release of dopamine, a substance that plays an important role in how the pleasure certain of the brain works. Since drugs encourage the release of large quantities of dopamine, repeated experiences may rewire the brain, leading to the addictive habits.
The study marks a landmark in genetic research, as it may explain while some people are prone to drug use even if they had a healthy upbringing and they didn’t take them due to peer pressure or other psychological reasons.
Future research will determine the impact of HK2 virus and what can be done to alter it for positive results.