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Alcohol Res Health. 2007;30(1):18-21.

Health-related effects of genetic variations of alcohol-metabolizing enzymes in African Americans.

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Howard University Alcohol Research Center, Washington, DC, USA.


Alcohol metabolism involves two key enzymes-alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). There are several types of ADH and ALDH, each of which may exist in several variants (i.e., isoforms) that differ in their ability to break down alcohol and its toxic metabolite acetaldehyde. The isoforms are encoded by different gene variants (i.e., alleles) whose distribution among ethnic groups differs. One variant of ADH is ADH1B, which is encoded by several alleles. An allele called ADH1 B*3 is unique to people of African descent and certain Native American tribes. This allele is associated with more rapid breakdown of alcohol, leading to a transient accumulation of acetaldehyde. African Americans carrying this allele are less likely to have a family history of alcoholism and experience a less rewarding subjective response to alcohol. Moreover, children of mothers with this allele are less vulnerable to alcohol-related birth defects. The enzyme ALDH1 also is encoded by several alleles. Two of these alleles that are found in African Americans-ALDH1 A1 *2 and ALDH1A1 *3--may be associated with a reduced risk of alcoholism.

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