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Pharmacogenetics. 1992 Apr;2(2):48-62.

Pharmacogenetics of alcohol metabolism and alcoholism.

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  • 1Institute of Human Genetics, University of Hamburg, Germany.


The pharmacogenetic differences among individuals in their capacity to metabolize ingested alcohol are possibly responsible for the large inter-individual and inter-ethnic variations observed in the outcome of alcohol use and misuse. Based on results of adoption, twin, and family studies it is now widely accepted that the vulnerability to alcoholism is determined by genetic factors as well as by environment. There is a constant search for biological markers and specific genes which could identify individuals genetically predisposed to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Numerous 'candidate genes' for alcoholism have been suggested including the alcohol metabolizing enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Both ADH and ALDH exhibit genetic heterogeneity. An atypical form of ADH (ADH2), which contains a variant beta 2 subunit instead of the usual beta 1 subunit, differs substantially from the usual form in its kinetic properties and is found more frequently among the Japanese, Chinese and other Mongoloid populations than in Caucasoids and Negroids. A widely prevalent genetic polymorphism has been observed for ALDH; about 50% of Japanese and Chinese livers possess an inactive ALDH (ALDH2 isozyme) whereas none of the Caucasian or Negroid populations show this isozyme abnormality. These metabolic polymorphisms seem to contribute to differences in the in vivo elimination rate of ethanol and acetaldehyde, and may explain differences in alcohol-related behaviour and its disease outcome. Taken together, Orientals who possess an atypical ALDH2 gene are more sensitive to acute responses to alcohol, tend to be discouraged from drinking alcohol, and consequently are at lower risk of developing alcohol-related disorders. However, more work is needed to support these findings. Recent advances in molecular genetics have made it possible to analyze directly the human genome. This may help in a better understanding of the complex genetic and environmental factors in alcohol abuse by providing prospects for identification of gene loci which may be responsible for predisposition to, and protection from, alcoholism.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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