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Keywords:

  • Addiction;
  • genetics;
  • molecular genetics;
  • pathological gambling

ABSTRACT

Aims  To summarize and discuss findings from genetic studies conducted on pathological gambling (PG).

Methods  Searches were conducted on PubMed and PsychInfo databases using the keywords: ‘gambling and genes’, ‘gambling and family’ and ‘gambling and genetics’, yielding 18 original research articles investigating the genetics of PG.

Results  Twin studies using the Vietnam Era Twin Registry have found that: (i) the heritability of PG is estimated to be 50–60%; (ii) PG and subclinical PG are a continuum of the same disorder; (iii) PG shares genetic vulnerability factors with antisocial behaviours, alcohol dependence and major depressive disorder; (iv) genetic factors underlie the association between exposure to traumatic life-events and PG. Molecular genetic investigations on PG are at an early stage and published studies have reported associations with genes involved in the brain's reward and impulse control systems.

Conclusions  Despite the paucity of studies in this area, published studies have provided considerable evidence of the influence of genetic factors on PG and its complex interaction with other psychiatric disorders and environmental factors. The next step would be to investigate the association and interaction of these variables in larger molecular genetic studies with subphenotypes that underlie PG. Results from family and genetic investigations corroborate further the importance of understanding the biological underpinnings of PG in the development of more specific treatment and prevention strategies.