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CNS Drugs. 2012 Jun 1;26(6):461-76. doi: 10.2165/11633180-000000000-00000.

Pharmacogenetically driven treatments for alcoholism: are we there yet?

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.


Pharmacogenetic analyses of treatments for alcohol dependence attempt to predict treatment response and side-effect risk for specific medications. We review the literature on pharmacogenetics relevant to alcohol dependence treatment, and describe state-of-the-art methods of pharmacogenetic research in this area. Two main pharmacogenetic study designs predominate: challenge studies and treatment-trial analyses. Medications studied include US FDA-approved naltrexone and acamprosate, both indicated for treating alcohol dependence, as well as several investigational (and off-label) treatments such as sertraline, olanzapine and ondansetron. The best-studied functional genetic variant relevant to alcoholism treatment is rs1799971, a single-nucleotide polymorphism in exon 1 of the OPRM1 gene that encodes the μ-opioid receptor. Evidence from clinical trials suggests that the presence of the variant G allele of rs1799971 may predict better treatment response to opioid receptor antagonists such as naltrexone. Evidence from clinical trials also suggests that several medications interact pharmacogenetically with variation in genes that encode proteins involved in dopaminergic and serotonergic neurotransmission. Variation in the DRD4 gene, which encodes the dopamine D(4) receptor, may predict better response to naltrexone and olanzapine. A polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 promoter region appears related to differential treatment response to sertraline depending on the subject's age of onset of alcoholism. Genetic variation in SLC6A4 may also be associated with better treatment response to ondansetron. Initial pharmacogenetic efforts in alcohol research have identified functional variants with potential clinical utility, but more research is needed to further elucidate the mechanism of these pharmacogenetic interactions and their moderators in order to translate them into clinical practice.

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