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Genetic link to alcoholism relapse found

January - February, 2009  |  Volume 8, Issue 1

Although much research has been done on genetic predisposition to alcohol dependence, very little has been done on how genes may affect the likelihood of falling off the wagon. Now, a team of Fogarty-sponsored researchers has found a strong link.

In a study of 123 Polish alcoholics, the team, led by Dr. Marcin Wojnar of the University of Warsaw and the University of Michigan, discovered that a particular form of the gene known as BDNF was associated with a higher risk and earlier occurrence of relapse.

The authors, writing in the online version of April’s Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, cautioned however that because of the large number of statistical tests and the paucity of research on the topic, “the results should be considered as hypothesis-generating” and requiring replication.

Although the small sample size limits the ability to generalize results to other ethnic groups, its homogeneity provided statistical power, the authors said.

Of six genes studied, “Only the BDNF Val/Val genotype predicted post-treatment relapse and time to relapse,” the authors said. When the analysis was restricted to those patients who have a family history of alcoholism “the associations … were even stronger.”

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