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Gene-on-gene interactions may influence risk for developing alcoholism

Not only do both genes and environment have an impact on the development of alcohol-use disorders, but now researchers have found that certain genes may influence scientists' ability to interpret other genes' effects. One variant of the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) gene the ADH1B genotype appears to be able to influence level of response (LR) to alcohol among non-Asians.

Results are published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

There are at least two known groups of gene mutations that can effect how individuals metabolize alcohol, explained Marc A. Schuckit, director of the Alcohol Research Center, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and co- author of the study. One group of mutations is in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and the other group is in the ADH enzyme. These mutations predominantly observed among Asians tend to impart protection from alcohol-use disorders because they cause a larger, more intense LR to alcohol, including facial flushing.

"The question was raised," continued Schuckit, "do the ADH mutations affect LR to alcohol in Caucasians? There are some fairly consistent reports in the literature that some Caucasians do have a bit of facial flushing with alcohol similar to what you see in Asians. Accordingly, if you can find this same increased response to alcohol in the roughly 10 percent of the Caucasian population that carries these ADH gene mutations, the next question is: 'how does that effect our ability to study people's LR to alcohol as it might be influenced by another gene?'"

For this study, participants numbered 117 (81 females, 36 males), ranging in age from 18 to 29 years of age, were primarily Caucasian (70.1%) and Black (26.5%), and recruited from San Diego, California. Researchers used various tools to assess demographic, substance use, psych
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