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Drug Metab Dispos. 2001 Apr;29(4 Pt 2):489-94.

Pharmacogenetics of alcohol response and alcoholism: the interplay of genes and environmental factors in thresholds for alcoholism.

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  • 1Laboratory of Neurogenetics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Maryland 20892, USA.


Recent advances in neuroscience and genetics have enabled a better understanding of genetically influenced differences in ethanol ("alcohol")-related responses and differential vulnerability to alcohol dependence at the cellular and molecular levels. Heritability studies reveal that the role of genetic factors in alcoholism is largely substance-specific, with the exception of nicotine. One focus of genetic research in alcoholism is the study of functional polymorphisms influencing alcohol metabolism, such as the aldehyde dehydrogenase type 2 Glu487Lys and alcohol dehydrogenase type 2 His47Arg polymorphisms, which affect vulnerability to alcoholism via pharmacokinetic mechanisms, and cross-population studies have begun to reveal important gene-environment interactions. The other focus is on functional genetic variants of proteins involved in the neuronal response to alcohol, including alcohol sensitivity, reward, tolerance, and withdrawal. Studies on the roles of GABA(A) alpha6-amino acid substitutions in rodents in alcohol and benzodiazepine sensitivity, and potential roles in human alcohol and benzodiazepine sensitivity are reviewed. These studies, together with recently developed knowledge on a GABA(A) receptor gene cluster at a quantitative trait loci for alcohol withdrawal on mouse chromosome 11, indicate that research investigation of variation at GABA(A) neurotransmission is a promising area in the pharmacodynamics of alcohol and in differential susceptibility to alcoholism. Genes for proteins involved in alcohol-mediated reward include genes for transporters and receptors for dopamine, serotonin, opioids, and GABA. These genes and their functional variants also represent important targets for understanding alcohol's effects in humans. Identification of genes for alcoholism vulnerability is important in the near future, not only for prevention, but also for development and targeting treatments.

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