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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2009 Feb;33(2):315-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2008.00835.x. Epub 2008 Nov 19.

A within-group design of nontreatment seeking 5-HTTLPR genotyped alcohol-dependent subjects receiving ondansetron and sertraline.

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Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University, Providence, RI 02908, USA.



Serotonergic mechanisms are associated with the development of alcohol dependence (AD), however, studies evaluating serotonergic medications have produced conflicting results. One hypothesis suggests that differential response may be due to a functional polymorphism of the 5-HTTLPR promoter region of the serotonin re-uptake transporter (5-HTT). The L/L genotype is postulated to be associated with early onset alcoholism and the S/S or S/L genotypes associated with late onset alcoholism. The aim of this study was to match and mismatch L/L, S/S, or S/L genotypes with administration of ondansetron and sertraline.


Fifteen nontreatment seeking alcohol-dependent individuals were randomized to 1 of 2 counterbalanced arms to receive either 200 mg/d of sertraline or ondansetron 0.5 mg/d for 3 weeks followed by an alcohol self-administration experiment (ASAE), then received placebo for 3 weeks followed by a second ASAE. Participants then received the alternate drug for 2 weeks followed by a third ASAE.


At the first ASAE compared to sertraline, ondansetron significantly improved drinking outcomes for the L/L genotype for the ASAE volume consumed (100% reduction based on between-subjects comparison, t = 2.35), and for drinks per drinking day during the 7 days prior to the ASAE (79% reduction and t = 4.34). Compared with ondansetron for S/S or S/L genotypes, outcomes at ASAE 1 for sertraline and S/S or S/L genotypes are opposite than hypothesized. Overall, subjects reduced drinking across their participation in the trial, as there appears to be an order effect.


This study suggests that ondansetron may reduce alcohol consumption in alcohol-dependent individuals who have the L/L genotype as measured naturalistically and during the ASAE. By contrast there was no support that sertraline reduces alcohol use in individuals who have S/S or S/L genotypes. Evidence in the literature suggests that AD in some individuals may be influenced by a gene by socio-environmental interaction making pharmacological treatment with serotonergic drugs complex. Research must consider that typologies may predict successful treatment of AD in future trials.

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