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Study Locates Genes That Predict Alcoholism, Depression

Washington, D.C. - It has long been known that a direct link exists between alcohol and depression. Now data shows that a gene or genes on chromosome 1 may predispose some individuals to alcoholism and others to depression, according to a groundbreaking study in the May 2001 American Journal of Psychiatry, a monthly journal of the American Psychiatric Association.

Researchers identified an area on chromosome 1 that is linked with vulnerability to alcoholism as well as affective disorders, primarily depression. Depending on circumstances, the gene or genes may manifest differently, in either of these forms. The study also showed that in many cases, the incidence of depression in individuals was secondary to alcoholism.

The research was conducted as part of the Collaborative Study of the Genetics of Alcoholism, an ongoing study at nine research centers across the United States in which investigators have used a common protocol to gather clinical and biological data from several hundred families with more than one case of alcoholism.

"With this new data we can now take a better look at patterns of diagnoses such as alcoholism and depression that run in families," said John I. Nurnberger, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Institute of Psychiatric Research, Indiana University Medical Center and lead author of the study. "In the future, we may be able to predict whether an individual is likely to have these disorders."

Preliminary results in a separate series of families indicate similar findings. Pinpointing the specific genes involved will be an integral part of subsequent studies, Nurnberger said.

The likelihood of overlap in genetic factors between alcoholism and affective disorders points up the need for further study of both populations, and it reinforces the importance of studying the interaction between the two conditions, Nurnberger said.

[Evidence for a Locus on Chromosome 1 that Influences Vulnerability to Alcoholism and Affective Disorder," by John I. Nurnberger, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., et al., p. 718, American Journal of Psychiatry, May 2001.]

---American Psychiatric Association

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