Genetic analysis of risk for painkiller dependence points to nervous system

by Bill Hathaway
Genetic analysis of risk for painkiller dependence points to nervous system
Credit: Shutterstock

(Medical Xpress)—An analysis of the genomes of 12,000 of addicts and non-addicts revealed some unexpected risk factors for dependence on opiates, a class of drug that includes both heroin and commonly-used painkillers, a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry shows.

Most previous investigations of have focused on brain receptors that respond directly to opioids such as Vicadin and Oxycodone. However, the new research found that the most significant genetic variations associated with opioid dependency occurred in areas of the genome that encode proteins governing potassium and in the nervous system.

"Potassium and calcium signaling were brought to the fore as the most important systems in terms of contribution to genetic risk in our sample," said Joel Gelernter, Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and lead author of the study. "Findings like these will help provide insight into new therapeutic and prevention strategies."

The most significant associations were found in African American subjects, something Gelernter suspects is attributable both to chance and racial differences in genetic .

Genomewide association studies previously have been used previously to identify variants linked to nicotine and cocaine dependence. The new study was first to employ this type of analysis to opioid dependence—despite estimates that on average 60 percent of the addiction risk for this trait in an individual is inherited. Gelernter stressed that eventually the number of genetic variants involved in addiction may number in the thousands as more studies are conducted. His lab has begun to sequence genes of opioid dependent subjects.

"We hope that study will provide us with more insight into specific risk variants for this trait," he said.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Genetic testing in kids is fraught with complications

date Jul 02, 2015

A woman coping with the burden of familial breast cancer can't help but wonder if her young daughter will suffer the same fate. Has she inherited the same disease-causing mutation? Is it best to be prepared ...

Cause of acute liver failure in young children discovered

date Jul 02, 2015

Acute liver failure is a rare yet life-threatening disease for young children. It often occurs extremely rapidly, for example, when a child has a fever. Yet in around 50 percent of cases it is unclear as to why this happens. ...

Genome sequencing illuminates rare Aicardi syndrome

date Jul 02, 2015

As my inbox fills with ever more updates on the number of human genomes sequenced and the plummeting time and cost of next next next generation sequencing, I find myself hitting delete more and more often. ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.