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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2008 Oct 12;363(1507):3213-22. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0104.

Review. Genetics of addictions: strategies for addressing heterogeneity and polygenicity of substance use disorders.

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  • 1Interdisciplinary Research Group Addiction, MRC-SGDP-Centre, Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London, 16 De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.


Addictions are common psychiatric disorders that exert high cost to the individual and to society. Addictions are a result of the interplay of multiple genetic and environmental factors. They are characterized by phenotypic and genetic heterogeneity as well as polygenicity, implying a contribution of different neurobiological mechanisms to the clinical diagnosis. Therefore, treatments for most substance use disorders are often only partially effective, with a substantial proportion of patients failing to respond. To address heterogeneity and polygenicity, strategies have been developed to identify more homogeneous subgroups of patients and to characterize genes contributing to their phenotype. These include genetic linkage and association studies as well as functional genetic analysis using endophenotypes and animal behavioural experimentation. Applying these strategies in a translational context aims at improving therapeutic response by the identification of subgroups of addiction patients for individualized, targeted treatment strategies. This article aims to discuss strategies addressing heterogeneity and polygenicity of substance use disorders by presenting results of recent research on genetic and environmental components of addiction. It will also introduce the European IMAGEN study that aims to integrate methodical approaches discussed in order to identify the genetic and neurobiological basis of behavioural traits relevant to the development of addictions.

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