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Keywords:

  • Alcohol dependence;
  • alcoholism;
  • GABA;
  • GABRA2;
  • single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs);
  • subjective response

ABSTRACT

Individual differences in subjective responses (SRs) to alcohol are moderated by genetic variants and may be risk factors for the development of alcohol use disorders. Variation in the GABAAα2 receptor subunit gene (GABRA2) has been associated with alcohol dependence (AD). Therefore, we examined whether individual differences in SRs, which reflect sensitivity to the effects of alcohol, are associated with variation in GABRA2. Sixty-nine healthy subjects (21–30 years) underwent a laboratory-based within-session cumulative oral alcohol dosing procedure, achieving a mean peak blood alcohol level of 100.4 mg/dl (standard error = 2.5). Subjective assessments were obtained throughout the session, including ascending and descending limbs of the alcohol curve. We genotyped single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across the chromosome 4 region spanning GABRA2 and analyzed the effect of genotype and haplotypes on subjective responses to alcohol. Population substructure was characterized through the use of ancestry informative markers. Individual SNP analysis demonstrated that carriers of the minor alleles for SNPs rs279858, rs279844, rs279845, rs279826, rs279828 and rs279836 had lower ‘Negative’ alcohol effects scores than individuals homozygous for the common allele at each SNP (P = 0.0060, P = 0.0035, P = 0.0045, P = 0.0043, P = 0.0037 and P = 0.0061, respectively). Haplotype effects of block 1 showed concordant results with SNPs in this block (P = 0.0492 and P = 0.0150 for haplotypes 1 and 4, respectively). The minor alleles for several of these SNPs have previously been associated with AD. Our findings provide further evidence that variation within GABRA2 is associated with attenuated negative responses to alcohol, a known risk factor for vulnerability to alcohol use disorders.