Unveiling Sex-Based Differences in the Effects of Alcohol Abuse: A Comprehensive Functional Meta-Analysis of Transcriptomic Studies

Genes (Basel). 2020 Sep 21;11(9):1106. doi: 10.3390/genes11091106.


The abuse of alcohol, one of the most popular psychoactive substances, can cause several pathological and psychological consequences, including alcohol use disorder (AUD). An impaired ability to stop or control alcohol intake despite adverse health or social consequences characterize AUD. While AUDs predominantly occur in men, growing evidence suggests the existence of distinct cognitive and biological consequences of alcohol dependence in women. The molecular and physiological mechanisms participating in these differential effects remain unknown. Transcriptomic technology permits the detection of the biological mechanisms responsible for such sex-based differences, which supports the subsequent development of novel personalized therapeutics to treat AUD. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of transcriptomics studies regarding alcohol dependence in humans with representation from both sexes. For each study, we processed and analyzed transcriptomic data to obtain a functional profile of pathways and biological functions and then integrated the resulting data by meta-analysis to characterize any sex-based transcriptomic differences associated with AUD. Global results of the transcriptomic analysis revealed the association of decreased tissue regeneration, embryo malformations, altered intracellular transport, and increased rate of RNA and protein replacement with female AUD patients. Meanwhile, our analysis indicated that increased inflammatory response and blood pressure and a reduction in DNA repair capabilities are associated with male AUD patients. In summary, our functional meta-analysis of transcriptomic studies provides evidence for differential biological mechanisms of AUD patients of differing sex.

Keywords: alcohol use disorders; functional profiling; meta-analysis; sex characteristics; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics*
  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Transcriptome / genetics*