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Addict Biol. 2008 Mar;13(1):1-14. Epub 2007 Oct 2.

HPA-axis activity in alcoholism: examples for a gene-environment interaction.

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  • 1Section of Addiction Biology, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London, UK.


Genetic and environmental influences are both known to be causal factors in the development and maintenance of substance abuse disorders. This review aims to focus on the contributions of genetic and environmental research to the understanding of alcoholism and how gene-environment interactions result in a variety of addiction phenotypes. Gene-environment interactions have been reviewed by focusing on one of the most relevant environmental risk factors for alcoholism, stress. This is examined in more detail by reviewing the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and its genetic and molecular components in this disorder. Recent evidence from animal and human studies have shown that the effects of stress on alcohol drinking are mediated by core HPA axis genes and are associated with genetic variations in those genes. The findings of the studies discussed here suggest that the collaborations of neuroscience, psychobiology and molecular genetics provide a promising framework to elucidate the exact mechanisms of gene-environment interactions as seen to convene upon the HPA axis and effect phenotypes of addiction.

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