Alcohol-related genes: contributions from studies with genetically engineered mice

Addict Biol. 2006 Sep;11(3-4):195-269. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-1600.2006.00038.x.


Since 1996, nearly 100 genes have been studied for their effects related to ethanol in mice using genetic modifications including gene deletion, gene overexpression, gene knock-in, and occasionally by studying existing mutants. Nearly all such studies have concentrated on genes expressed in brain, and the targeted genes range widely in their function, including most of the principal neurotransmitter systems, several neurohormones, and a number of signaling molecules. We review 141 published reports of effects (or lack thereof) of 93 genes on responses to ethanol. While most studies have focused on ethanol self-administration and reward, and/or sedative effects, other responses studied include locomotor stimulation, anxiolytic effects, and neuroadaptation (tolerance, sensitization, withdrawal). About 1/4 of the engineered mutations increase self-administration, 1/3 decrease it, and about 40% have no significant effect. In many cases, the effects on self-administration are rather modest and/or depend on the specific experimental procedures. In some cases, genes in the background strains on which the mutant is placed are important for results. Not surprisingly, review of the systems affected further supports roles for serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, opioids and dopamine, all of which have long been foci of alcohol research. Novel modulatory effects of protein kinase C and G protein-activated inwardly rectifying K+ (GIRK) channels are also suggested. Some newer research with cannabinoid systems is promising, and has led to ongoing clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression / genetics*
  • Genetic Engineering / methods*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Point Mutation / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine / genetics
  • Receptors, Opioid / genetics
  • Receptors, Serotonin / genetics
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / genetics


  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone