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Genetics Primer

Genetics is the study of genes— the heritable information that contains the codes for proteins and other molecules which form and maintain an organism’s structure and function. In most organisms, these genes are found in strands of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules. The specific structure of the DNA (described below) ensures that the genetic information can be passed from one generation to the...

Genetics Glossary

Agonist: An agent that mimics the actions or effects of another agent at a receptor (e.g., a drug that mimics the effects of a neurotransmitter).

Allele: One of two or more forms of a gene that reside at the same position on a pair of chromosomes; different alleles of a gene may serve the same function (e.g., code for an enzyme that breaks down alcohol) but may result in proteins with different...

In Utero Alcohol Exposure, Epigenetic Changes, and Their Consequences

Alcohol exposure of the developing embryo and fetus in utero can have a wide range of detrimental effects collectively referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Researchers are intensively investigating the mechanisms that may contribute to alcohol’s effects on the developing organism and to the resulting consequences, particularly with respect to the cognitive and behavioral...

Genes Contributing to the Development of Alcoholism: An Overview

A major goal of genetic research into alcoholism and related traits is to better understand the biology underlying this disease by identifying specific genes in which variations contribute to a person’s risk of developing the disease and then examining the pathways through which these genes and their variants affect the disease. Researchers hope to use this knowledge to develop new, more effective...

The Impact of Gene–Environment Interaction on Alcohol Use Disorders

This article explores interactions between genetic and environmental effects on alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Two contrasting ideas define what it means to have genes and environment interact. The first approach—the one that this article will focus on—is a statistical perspective. This approach is based on statistical models in which genetic and environmental factors are sometimes measured...

Identifying Gene Networks Underlying the Neurobiology of Ethanol and Alcoholism

The multiple genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that play a role in the development of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) make it difficult to identify individual genes linked to these disorders. Nevertheless, some genetic risk factors (i.e., specific variants) associated with AUDs have been identified within many genes, some of which code for proteins involved in known biological pathways...

A Watershed Year for an Update on the Genetics of Alcoholism

It is easy to think of genetics as the study of genes, but given our current knowledge of genetics, this definition is now considered inadequate. Genetics is the study of differences among individuals—even between identical twins. We know that some differences between individuals are linked to variations in DNA sequence (i.e., the genome), but most differences actually are caused by complex...

Identifying Genetic Variation for Alcohol Dependence

Over the last decade, three large-scale projects have catalyzed a revolution in genetic technologies and studies. First, the Human Genome Project laid the foundation for modern genetic studies of disease by determining the basic sequence of the 3 billion building blocks (i.e., base pairs) that make up the human genome and by identifying the approximately 25,000 genes included in this sequence (htt...

Genetic and Environmental Determinants of Stress Responding

The development of alcohol dependence is a complex process influenced by both genetic and environmental risk factors (Prescott and Kendler 1999). The relative contributions of genetic and environmental influences fluctuate across development. During adolescence the initiation of alcohol use is strongly influenced by environmental factors (Dick et al. 2007; Heath et al. 1997; Karvonen 1995...