Alcoholism is a complex disease with both genetic and environmental risk factors. To identify genes that affect the risk for alcoholism, we systematically ascertained and carefully assessed individuals in families with multiple alcoholics. Linkage and association analyses suggested that a region of chromosome 4p contained genes affecting a quantitative endophenotype, brain oscillations in the beta frequency range (13-28 Hz), and the risk for alcoholism. To identify the individual genes that affect these phenotypes, we performed linkage disequilibrium analyses of 69 single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) within a cluster of four GABA(A) receptor genes, GABRG1, GABRA2, GABRA4, and GABRB1, at the center of the linked region. GABA(A) receptors mediate important effects of alcohol and also modulate beta frequencies. Thirty-one SNPs in GABRA2, but only 1 of the 20 SNPs in the flanking genes, showed significant association with alcoholism. Twenty-five of the GABRA2 SNPs, but only one of the SNPs in the flanking genes, were associated with the brain oscillations in the beta frequency. The region of strongest association with alcohol dependence extended from intron 3 past the 3' end of GABRA2; all 43 of the consecutive three-SNP haplotypes in this region of GABRA2 were highly significant. A three-SNP haplotype was associated with alcoholism, with P=.000000022. No coding differences were found between the high-risk and low-risk haplotypes, suggesting that the effect is mediated through gene regulation. The very strong association of GABRA2 with both alcohol dependence and the beta frequency of the electroencephalogram, combined with biological evidence for a role of this gene in both phenotypes, suggest that GABRA2 might influence susceptibility to alcohol dependence by modulating the level of neural excitation.
The alcohol-flush reaction occurs in Asians who inherit the mutant ALDH2*2 allele that produces an inactive aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme. In these individuals, high blood acetaldehyde levels are believed to be the cause of the unpleasant symptoms that follow drinking. We measured the alcohol elimination rates and intensity of flushing in Chinese subjects in whom the alcohol dehydrogenase ADH2 and ALDH2 genotypes were determined. We also correlated ADH2, ADH3, and ALDH2 genotypes with drinking behavior in 100 Chinese men. We discovered that ADH2*2 and ADH3*1, alleles that encode the high activity forms of alcohol dehydrogenase, as well as the mutant ALDH2*2 allele were less frequent in alcoholics than in controls. The presence of ALDH2*2 was associated with slower alcohol metabolism and the most intense flushing. In those homozygous for ALDH2*1, the presence of two ADH2*2 alleles correlated with slightly faster alcohol metabolism and more intense flushing, although a great deal of variability in the latter was noted.
This review discusses efforts to develop rodent models for the study of neurobiological mechanisms underlying chronic alcohol drinking, alcoholism, and abnormal alcohol-seeking behavior. Selective breeding has produced stable lines of rats that reliably exhibit high and (for comparison purposes) low voluntary alcohol consumption. In addition, animal models of chronic ethanol self-administration have been developed in rodents, who do not have a genetic predisposition for high alcohol-seeking behavior, to explore environmental influences in ethanol drinking and the effects of physical dependence on alcohol self-administration. The selectively bred high-preference animals reliably self-administer ethanol by free-choice drinking and operantly respond for oral ethanol in amounts that produce pharmacologically meaningful blood alcohol concentrations (50 to 200 mg% and higher). In addition, the alcohol-preferring rats will self-administer ethanol by intragastric infusion. With chronic free-choice drinking, the high alcohol-preferring rats develop tolerance to the high-dose effects of ethanol and show signs of physical dependence after the withdrawal of alcohol. Compared with nonpreferring animals, the alcohol-preferring rats are less sensitive to the sedative-hypnotic effects of ethanol and develop tolerance more quickly to high-dose ethanol. Nonselected common stock rats can be trained to chronically self-administer ethanol following its initial presentation in a palatable sucrose or saccharin solution, and the gradual replacement of the sucrose or saccharin with ethanol (the sucrose/saccharin-fade technique). Moreover, rats that are trained in this manner and then made dependent by ethanol-vapor inhalation or liquid diet increase their ethanol self-administration during the withdrawal period. Both the selectively bred rats and common-stock rats demonstrate "relapse" and an alcohol deprivation effect following 2 or more weeks of abstinence. Systemic administration of agents that (1) increase synaptic levels of serotonin (5-HT) or dopamine (DA); (2) activate 5-HT1A, 5-HT2, D2, D3, or GABA(A) receptors; or (3) block opioid and 5-HT3 receptors decrease ethanol intake in most animal models. Neurochemical, neuroanatomical, and neuropharmacological studies indicate innate differences exist between the high alcohol-consuming and low alcohol-consuming rodents in various CNS limbic structures. In addition, reduced mesolimbic DA and 5-HT function have been observed during alcohol withdrawal in common stock rats. Depending on the animal model under study, abnormalities in the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, and/or the serotonin, opioid, and GABA systems that regulate this pathway may underlie vulnerability to the abnormal alcohol-seeking behavior in the genetic animal models.
Alcohol dependence is a leading cause of morbidity and premature death. Several lines of evidence suggest a substantial genetic component to the risk for alcoholism: sibs of alcoholic probands have a 3-8 fold increased risk of also developing alcoholism, and twin heritability estimates of 50-60% are reported by contemporary studies of twins. We report on the results of a six-center collaborative study to identify susceptibility loci for alcohol dependence. A genome-wide screen examined 291 markers in 987 individuals from 105 families. Two-point and multipoint nonparametric linkage analyses were performed to detect susceptibility loci for alcohol dependence. Multipoint methods provided the strongest suggestions of linkage with susceptibility loci for alcohol dependence on chromosomes 1 and 7, and more modest evidence for a locus on chromosome 2. In addition, there was suggestive evidence for a protective locus on chromosome 4 near the alcohol dehydrogenase genes, for which protective effects have been reported in Asian populations.
The genes that encode the major enzymes of alcohol metabolism, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), exhibit functional polymorphism. The variant alleles ADH2*2 and ADH3*1, which encode high-activity ADH isoforms, and the ALDH2*2 allele, which encodes the low-activity form of ALDH2, protect against alcoholism in East Asians. To investigate possible interactions among these protective genes, we genotyped 340 alcoholic and 545 control Han Chinese living in Taiwan at the ADH2, ADH3, and ALDH2 loci. After the influence of ALDH2*2 was controlled for, multiple logistic regression analysis indicated that allelic variation at ADH3 exerts no significant effect on the risk of alcoholism. This can be accounted for by linkage disequlibrium between ADH3*1 and ADH2*2 ALDH2*2 homozygosity, regardless of the ADH2 genotypes, was fully protective against alcoholism; no individual showing such homozygosity was found among the alcoholics. Logistic regression analyses of the remaining six combinatorial genotypes of the polymorphic ADH2 and ALDH2 loci indicated that individuals carrying one or two copies of ADH2*2 and a single copy of ALDH2*2 had the lowest risk (ORs 0.04-0.05) for alcoholism, as compared with the ADH2*1/*1 and ALDH2*1/*1 genotype. The disease risk associated with the ADH2*2/*2-ALDH2*1/*1 genotype appeared to be about half of that associated with the ADH2*1/*2-ALDH2*1/*1 genotype. The results suggest that protection afforded by the ADH2*2 allele may be independent of that afforded by ALDH2*2.
Drug addiction manifests as a compulsive drive to take a drug despite serious adverse consequences. This aberrant behaviour has traditionally been viewed as bad "choices" that are made voluntarily by the addict. However, recent studies have shown that repeated drug use leads to long-lasting changes in the brain that undermine voluntary control. This, combined with new knowledge of how environmental, genetic and developmental factors contribute to addiction, should bring about changes in our approach to the prevention and treatment of addiction.
It is now widely accepted that the various pharmacologic and addictive consequences of alcohol consumption are related to the tissue concentration of ethanol or its metabolic products. The oxidative metabolism of ethanol in liver is principally catalyzed by alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. Both of these enzymes exist in multiple molecular forms, and genetic models have been proposed to account for the multiplicity of isoenzymes. Alcohol dehydrogenase subunits are encoded at five different gene loci, and genetic polymorphism occurs at two alcohol dehydrogenase loci. Variant isoenzymes produced at the two polymorphic alcohol dehydrogenase loci account for the differences in enzyme electrophoretic patterns observed among individuals. Some of these variant isoenzymes exhibit widely different kinetic properties, and this may account for the 2- to 3-fold variation in alcohol elimination rate among individuals. Since the protein sequence of several of the alcohol dehydrogenase subunits has been determined and several of the alcohol dehydrogenase genes has been cloned, some of the structural changes which give rise to differences in catalytic and electrophoretic properties are now known. Genetic polymorphism also occurs at the aldehyde dehydrogenase gene locus which encodes the mitochondrial low Km for acetaldehyde aldehyde dehydrogenase isoenzyme. The variant isoenzyme exhibits little or no catalytic activity. Individuals with this "null" variant have higher than normal blood acetaldehyde levels and exhibit an alcohol-flush reaction which appears to be a deterrent to heavy drinking and alcoholism.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)
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