Genetic polymorphism of human liver alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenases, and their relationship to alcohol metabolism and alcoholism

Hepatology. 1986 May-Jun;6(3):502-10. doi: 10.1002/hep.1840060330.


It is now widely accepted that the various pharmacologic and addictive consequences of alcohol consumption are related to the tissue concentration of ethanol or its metabolic products. The oxidative metabolism of ethanol in liver is principally catalyzed by alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. Both of these enzymes exist in multiple molecular forms, and genetic models have been proposed to account for the multiplicity of isoenzymes. Alcohol dehydrogenase subunits are encoded at five different gene loci, and genetic polymorphism occurs at two alcohol dehydrogenase loci. Variant isoenzymes produced at the two polymorphic alcohol dehydrogenase loci account for the differences in enzyme electrophoretic patterns observed among individuals. Some of these variant isoenzymes exhibit widely different kinetic properties, and this may account for the 2- to 3-fold variation in alcohol elimination rate among individuals. Since the protein sequence of several of the alcohol dehydrogenase subunits has been determined and several of the alcohol dehydrogenase genes has been cloned, some of the structural changes which give rise to differences in catalytic and electrophoretic properties are now known. Genetic polymorphism also occurs at the aldehyde dehydrogenase gene locus which encodes the mitochondrial low Km for acetaldehyde aldehyde dehydrogenase isoenzyme. The variant isoenzyme exhibits little or no catalytic activity. Individuals with this "null" variant have higher than normal blood acetaldehyde levels and exhibit an alcohol-flush reaction which appears to be a deterrent to heavy drinking and alcoholism.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases / genetics*
  • Alcoholism / genetics
  • Alcoholism / metabolism
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / genetics*
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Asian People
  • Electrophoresis, Starch Gel
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Code
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / analysis
  • Isoenzymes / genetics
  • Japan
  • Kinetics
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Isoenzymes
  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases
  • Aldehyde Oxidoreductases
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • aldehyde dehydrogenase (NAD(P)+)