NIH Researchers Complete Unprecedented Genetic Study That May Help Identify People Most at Risk for Alcoholism

The human genome mapping project has set the stage for advancing understanding of many illnesses. It’s well established through twin and other studies that there are genetic components to addiction. Hopefully this article represents the beginning of similar advances in understanding the multiple genetic factors in addiction.

“Previous studies established that alcoholism runs in families, but this research has given us the most extensive catalogue yet of the genetic variations that may contribute to the hereditary nature of this disease,” says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “We now have new tools that will allow us to better understand the physiological foundation of addiction.”

NIDA researchers found genetic variations clustered around 51 defined chromosomal regions that may play roles in alcohol addiction. The candidate genes are involved in many key activities, including cell-to-cell communication, control of protein synthesis, regulation of development, and cell-to-cell interactions. For example, one gene implicated in this study the AIP1 gene is a known disease-related gene expressed primarily in the brain, where it helps brain cells set up and maintain contacts with the appropriate neighboring cells. Many of the nominated genes have been previously identified in other addiction research, providing support to the idea that common genetic variants are involved in human vulnerability to substance abuse.