The genetics of alcohol dependence: Advancing towards systems-based approaches

R. H.C. Palmer, J. E. McGeary, S. Francazio, B. J. Raphael, A. D. Lander, A. C. Heath, V. S. Knopik

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Personalized treatment for psychopathologies, in particular alcoholism, is highly dependent upon our ability to identify patterns of genetic and environmental effects that influence a person's risk. Unfortunately, array-based whole genome investigations into heritable factors that explain why one person becomes dependent upon alcohol and another does not, have indicated that alcohol's genetic architecture is highly complex. That said, uncovering and interpreting the missing heritability in alcohol genetics research has become all the more important, especially since the problem may extend to our inability to model the cumulative and combinatorial relationships between common and rare genetic variants. As numerous studies begin to illustrate the dependency of alcohol pharmacotherapies on an individual's genotype, the field is further challenged to identify new ways to transcend agnostic genomewide association approaches. We discuss insights from genetic studies of alcohol related diseases, as well as issues surrounding alcohol's genetic complexity and etiological heterogeneity. Finally, we describe the need for innovative systems-based approaches (Systems Genetics) that can provide additional statistical power that can enhance future gene-finding strategies and help to identify heretofore-unrealized mechanisms that may provide new targets for prevention/treatments efforts. Emerging evidence from early studies suggest that Systems Genetics has the potential to organize our neurological, pharmacological, and genetic understanding of alcohol dependence into a biologically plausible framework that represents how perturbations across evolutionarily robust biological systems determine susceptibility to alcohol dependence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-191
Number of pages13
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology


  • Alcohol dependence
  • Alcoholism
  • GWAS
  • Genetics
  • Systems Genetics


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