The neuropeptide galanin has been implicated in the regulation of appetitive and consummatory behaviors. Prior studies have shown that direct injection of galanin into the hypothalamus results in increased release of dopamine (DA) in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), and parallel increases in food and alcohol consumption. These studies are consistent with a role of hypothalamic galanin in regulating reward system reactivity. In humans, a common functional haplotype (GAL5.1) within a remote enhancer region upstream of the galanin gene (GAL) affects promoter activity and galanin expression in hypothalamic neurons in vitro. Given the effects of hypothalamic galanin on NAcc DA release and the effects of the GAL5.1 haplotype on GAL expression, we examined the impact of this functional genetic variation on human reward-related ventral striatum (VS) reactivity. Using an imaging genetics strategy in Caucasian individuals (N = 138, 72 women) participating in the ongoing Duke Neurogenetics Study, we report a significant gender-by-genotype interaction (right hemisphere: F1,134 = 8.08, P = 0.005; left hemisphere: F1,134 = 5.39, P = 0.022), such that homozygosity for the GG haplotype, which predicts greater GAL expression, is associated with relatively increased VS reactivity in women (n = 50, right hemisphere: P = 0.015; left hemisphere: P = 0.060), but not in men (N = 49, P-values > 0.10). Furthermore, these differences in VS reactivity correlated positively with differences in alcohol use, such that VS reactivity mediated a gender-specific association between GAL5.1 haplotype and problem drinking. Our current results support those in animal models implicating galanin signaling in neural pathways associated with appetitive and consummatory behaviors of relevance for understanding risk for substance use and abuse.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society.