Genetic analysis of risk for painkiller dependence points to nervous system

October 25, 2013 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.

Explore further: A gene implicated in schizophrenia risk is also associated with risk for cannabis dependence

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New class of RNA tumor suppressors identified

November 23, 2015

A pair of RNA molecules originally thought to be no more than cellular housekeepers are deleted in over a quarter of common human cancers, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Breast cancer ...

Batten disease may benefit from gene therapy

November 11, 2015

In a study of dogs, scientists showed that a new way to deliver replacement genes may be effective at slowing the development of childhood Batten disease, a rare and fatal neurological disorder. The key may be to inject viruses ...

Molecular clocks control mutation rate in human cells

November 9, 2015

Every cell in the human body contains a copy of the human genome. Through the course of a lifetime all cells are thought to acquire mutations in their genomes. Some of the mutational processes generating these mutations do ...


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.