New insights into the genetics of addiction


Drug addiction is a common brain disorder that is extremely costly to the individual and to society. Genetics contributes significantly to vulnerability to this disorder, but identification of susceptibility genes has been slow. Recent genome-wide linkage and association studies have implicated several regions and genes in addiction to various substances, including alcohol and, more recently, tobacco. Current efforts aim not only to replicate these findings in independent samples but also to determine the functional mechanisms of these genes and variants.

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Figure 1: Chromosomal locations of peaks or intervals for addiction to multiple substances.


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The authors are supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (DA12844, DA-13,783, DA15462S1, AA012217, and AA016104). The authors thank C. Seneviratne, J. Wang and J. Z. Ma of the University of Virginia for assistance in the preparation of tables and figures.

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Correspondence to Ming D. Li.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information S1 (Table 1)

Candidate genes associated with at least one drug addiction (PDF 320 kb)

Supplementary Information S2 (Table 2)

Candidate genes having one or more variants that have been associated with one substance (PDF 298 kb)

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Behavioural automaticity

Control of behaviour by external stimuli and events in the immediate environment, often without knowledge or awareness of such control.

Behavioural saliency

In the context of this article, the likelihood and the degree to which a stimulus elicits a reaction or response.

Depression induction

A procedure that induces a state of depression.


In psychiatry, a biomarker for a behavioural symptom that has a clear genetic connection.

Genetic heterogeneity

Causation of a disorder or trait by different genetic variants in different samples. This can arise when participants of different ethnic origins are included, genetic effects or samples are small, and marker density is low.


A combination of the alleles at different loci on the same chromosome.


The proportion of phenotypic variance that can be attributed to variance of the genotype.

Linkage mapping

Linkage refers to the tendency of two close loci on the same chromosome to co-segregate within a pedigree. Genome-wide linkage scanning can identify loci that are involved in conditions for which there is no a priori reason to suspect any contribution.

Long-term potentiation

The long-lasting improvement in communication between two neurons that results from stimulating them simultaneously.

Multifactor dimensionality reduction method

A data reduction approach for detecting combinations of attributes or independent variables that interact to influence a binary outcome.

Positional candidate gene approach

A candidate gene-based association study that focuses on a genome region identified from linkage analysis.

QTL mapping

The statistical study of the genetic loci that contribute to variations in a quantitative trait or phenotype.

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Li, M., Burmeister, M. New insights into the genetics of addiction. Nat Rev Genet 10, 225–231 (2009).

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