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Keywords:

  • alcohol dependence;
  • association;
  • eye pigmentation;
  • ethanol;
  • melanogenesis;
  • drinking

In archival samples of European-ancestry subjects, light-eyed individuals have been found to consume more alcohol than dark-eyed individuals. No published population-based studies have directly tested the association between alcohol dependence (AD) and eye color. We hypothesized that light-eyed individuals have a higher prevalence of AD than dark-eyed individuals. A mixture model was used to select a homogeneous sample of 1,263 European-Americans and control for population stratification. After quality control, we conducted an association study using logistic regression, adjusting for confounders (age, sex, and genetic ancestry). We found evidence of association between AD and blue eye color (P = 0.0005 and odds ratio = 1.83 (1.31–2.57)), supporting light eye color as a risk factor relative to brown eye color. Network-based analyses revealed a statistically significant (P = 0.02) number of genetic interactions between eye color genes and AD-associated genes. We found evidence of linkage disequilibrium between an AD-associated GABA receptor gene cluster, GABRB3/GABRG3, and eye color genes, OCA2/HERC2, as well as between AD-associated GRM5 and pigmentation-associated TYR. Our population-phenotype, network, and linkage disequilibrium analyses support association between blue eye color and AD. Although we controlled for stratification we cannot exclude underlying occult stratification as a contributor to this observation. Although replication is needed, our findings suggest that eye pigmentation information may be useful in research on AD. Further characterization of this association may unravel new AD etiological factors. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.