Background: Human twin studies have shown that certain responses to alcohol, including subjective perceptions, are genetically influenced. Previous studies have provided evidence that a low level of response to alcohol predicts future alcohol use disorders in humans. Recent genetic studies suggest an association between alcohol dependence and genetic variation in the γ-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptor α2 subunit gene (GABRA2). Based on a haplotypic association of alcohol dependence with GABRA2, we investigated whether GABRA2 alleles are associated with the subjective responses to clamped alcohol concentration.
Methods: One hundred and ten healthy social drinkers (53 men) underwent the alcohol clamp. Fifteen minutes after the start of an intravenous infusion of alcohol, the breath alcohol concentration was clamped at a target of 50 ± 5 mg/dl for 165 minutes. Subjective physiologic responses to alcohol and stimulant and sedative effects of alcohol were measured repeatedly during the alcohol clamp. Because aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) has been shown to have a great impact on the subjective responses to alcohol, we divided subjects by ALDH2 genotype for further analyses. To examine the role of genetic variation in GABRA2, 7 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that were informative in association studies were included as factors in the analysis.
Results: Among these 7 SNPs, 3 SNPs (rs279869, rs279858, and rs279837) located in the middle of the GABRA2 gene showed significant associations with subjective effects of alcohol. Subjects with 1 or 2 copies of the more common allele showed greater subjective responses to alcohol than did individuals homozygous for the alcohol dependence–associated allele regardless of ALDH2 genotype.
Conclusions: These findings confirm and extend the observation that the GABRA2 alleles affect the subjective responses to alcohol, and suggest that the genetic variations in GABRA2 might play a role in the risk of alcohol use disorders by moderating the subjective effects of alcohol.