Researchers describe genetic variants that increase vulnerability to gambling addiction

  • Neurotrophic factors are small proteins that regulate the growth and survival of neurons.
  • This IDIBELL and Bellvitge Hospital study shows that six variants of the gene family that codes for these factors are closely associated with more vulnerability to gambling addiction.
  • It has already shown that neurotrophic factors genes are related to these addictions, but this is the first study to describe the specific mechanism.
NP13 - S Jimenez_Scientific Reports - Imatge

Gambling is a growing activity in our society, especially online games. Although many people participate without associated health problems, many others develop a gambling addiction, which can have significant economic, social, and psychological effects. It is estimated that between 0.02% and 2% of adults will experience gambling addiction at some point. The causes that determine whether a person will develop an addiction are complex and not yet fully understood.

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports, led by the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Bellvitge University Hospital (HUB), confirmed that the neurotrophic factors genes, small proteins that regulate neuronal activity, are associated with gambling addiction. Specifically, the study describes six changes in these genes that increase vulnerability to gambling addiction.

Dr. Susana Jiménez, project leader, IDIBELL group leader, and Coordinator of the Pathological Gambling Unit of the Bellvitge University Hospital declares: “Gambling addiction is very complex, it affects different people with diverse psychological, social, and biological factors. Now with this study, we have one more tool: now we understand the genetic factors that increase the vulnerability and can help us in the diagnosis and treatment“.

Previous studies pointed to a possible role of the neurotrophic factors genes in gambling addiction. This new study reveals for the first time which are the specific variations that increase the risk.


The Similarities Between Gambling Addiction and Substance Addiction

Neurotrophic factors not only play a role in gambling addictions. Previous studies also showed their involvement in other psychiatric disorders, such as substance addictions.

This is not the first time that substance addictions and behavior-related addictions shared common characteristics. First of all, these types of psychiatric disorders involve the same brain regions. Also, they share the mechanisms of signals transmission between neurons in the processes of impulsiveness, reward, or decision making.

The discussion if the behavioral addictions are impulse control disorders or addictions is still open, -says Dr. Jiménezit is necessary to keep investigating its origin to apply preventive measures.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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