Background The last 10 years have seen growing recognition of the significance of the genes encoding enzymes responsible for hepatic alcohol metabolism as protective factors in the development of alcoholism.
Methods We have developed DNA sequencing assays for measuring genetic variation at the alcohol dehydrogenase
2 (ADH2), ADH3, and aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) loci. These have been used to survey volunteer control subjects from three New Zealand ethnic groups (white, Asian, and Polynesian) and young male alcoholics recruited from white and New Zealand Maori patients in a local treatment program.
Results The allele frequency values for whites and Asians obtained in our study closely match those obtained previously in other laboratories. Our data (the first for Polynesians) are 0.42 for ADH2*2, 0.78 for ADH3*1, and 0.00 for ALDH2*2. In the New Zealand Maori alcoholic patients, the ADH2*2 frequency is significantly lower (0.15;p < 0.01). The frequency of ADH3*1 is also lower in this group (0.60), but this value is not significant (0.05 <p < 0.06).
Conclusions In young male New Zealand Maori, the ADH2*2 allele is a protective factor against alcoholism even in the absence of ALDH2*2.