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Genetic influences on response to alcohol and response to pharmacotherapies for alcoholism

Author(s): Enoch MA

Abstract

Although very many individuals drink alcohol at safe levels, a significant proportion escalates their consumption with addiction as the end result. Alcoholism is a common, moderately heritable, psychiatric disorder that is accompanied by considerable morbidity and mortality. Variation in clinical presentation suggests inter-individual variation in mechanisms of vulnerability including genetic risk factors. The development of addiction is likely to involve numerous functional genetic variants of small effects. The first part of this review will focus on genetic factors underlying inter-individual variability in response to alcohol consumption, including variants in alcohol metabolizing genes that produce an aversive response (the flushing syndrome) and variants that predict the level of subjective and physiological response to alcohol. The second part of this review will report on genetic variants that identify subgroups of alcoholics who are more likely to respond to pharmacotherapy to reduce levels of drinking or maintain abstinence. Genetic analyses of the level of response to alcohol, particularly of the functional OPRM1 A118G polymorphism and 5' and 3' functional polymorphisms in SLC6A4, are beginning to provide insights into the etiology of alcoholism and also genotype-stratified subgroup responses to naltrexone and SSRIs/ondansetron respectively. Because of large inter-ethnic variation in allele frequencies, the relevance of these functional polymorphisms will vary between ethnic groups. However there are relatively few published studies in this field, particularly with large sample sizes in pharmacogenetic studies, therefore it is premature to draw any conclusions at this stage.

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