The genetics of alcohol dependence

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Alcohol consumption dates back to the Neolithic period, and alcohol dependence contributes substantially to the current global burden of disease. Despite this, optimal therapies and preventive strategies are lacking. Formal genetic studies of alcohol dependence have shown that genetic factors play as large a role in disease etiology as environmental factors. Molecular genetic studies may identify causal factors and facilitate the development of novel preventive and therapeutic approaches. Whereas earlier studies involved the use of linkage- and candidate-gene approaches, recent years have witnessed the introduction of genome-wide association studies (GWAS). The present review provides a brief overview of the findings of formal genetic studies, summarizes the results of earlier molecular–genetic investigations, and presents a detailed overview of all published GWAS in the field of alcohol dependence research. To date, few genome-wide significant findings have been reported. However, through the polygenic approach, GWAS have both confirmed the existence of a multitude of novel risk genes and indicated interesting new candidates.

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