A genetic determinant of the striatal dopamine response to alcohol in men

V. A. Ramchandani, J. Umhau, F. J. Pavon, V. Ruiz-Velasco, W. Margas, H. Sun, R. Damadzic, R. Eskay, M. Schoor, A. Thorsell, M. L. Schwandt, W. H. Sommer, D. T. George, L. H. Parsons, P. Herscovitch, D. Hommer, M. Heilig

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238 Scopus citations


Excessive alcohol use, a major cause of morbidity and mortality, is less well understood than other addictive disorders. Dopamine release in ventral striatum is a common element of drug reward, but alcohol has an unusually complex pharmacology, and humans vary greatly in their alcohol responses. This variation is related to genetic susceptibility for alcoholism, which contributes more than half of alcoholism risk. Here, we report that a functional OPRM1 A118G polymorphism is a major determinant of striatal dopamine responses to alcohol. Social drinkers recruited based on OPRM1 genotype were challenged in separate sessions with alcohol and placebo under pharmacokinetically controlled conditions, and examined for striatal dopamine release using positron emission tomography and 11 C-raclopride displacement. A striatal dopamine response to alcohol was restricted to carriers of the minor 118G allele. To directly establish the causal role of OPRM1 A118G variation, we generated two humanized mouse lines, carrying the respective human sequence variant. Brain microdialysis showed a fourfold greater peak dopamine response to an alcohol challenge in h/mOPRM1-118GG than in h/mOPRM1-118AA mice. OPRM1 A118G variation is a genetic determinant of dopamine responses to alcohol, a mechanism by which it likely modulates alcohol reward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)809-817
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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