A Pathway-Based Genomic Approach to Identify Medications: Application to Alcohol Use Disorder

Brain Sci. 2019 Dec 16;9(12):381. doi: 10.3390/brainsci9120381.


Chronic, excessive alcohol use alters brain gene expression patterns, which could be important for initiating, maintaining, or progressing the addicted state. It has been proposed that pharmaceuticals with opposing effects on gene expression could treat alcohol use disorder (AUD). Computational strategies comparing gene expression signatures of disease to those of pharmaceuticals show promise for nominating novel treatments. We reasoned that it may be sufficient for a treatment to target the biological pathway rather than lists of individual genes perturbed by AUD. We analyzed published and unpublished transcriptomic data using gene set enrichment of Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathways to identify biological pathways disrupted in AUD brain and by compounds in the Library of Network-based Cellular Signatures (LINCS L1000) and Connectivity Map (CMap) databases. Several pathways were consistently disrupted in AUD brain, including an up-regulation of genes within the Complement and Coagulation Cascade, Focal Adhesion, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, and MAPK signaling, and a down-regulation of genes within the Oxidative Phosphorylation pathway, strengthening evidence for their importance in AUD. Over 200 compounds targeted genes within those pathways in an opposing manner, more than twenty of which have already been shown to affect alcohol consumption, providing confidence in our approach. We created a user-friendly web-interface that researchers can use to identify drugs that target pathways of interest or nominate mechanism of action for drugs. This study demonstrates a unique systems pharmacology approach that can nominate pharmaceuticals that target pathways disrupted in disease states such as AUD and identify compounds that could be repurposed for AUD if sufficient evidence is attained in preclinical studies.

Keywords: alcohol dependence; alcohol use disorder; gene expression; systems pharmacology.