Consilient research approaches in studying gene × environment interactions in alcohol research

Kenneth J. Sher, Danielle M. Dick, John C. Crabbe, Kent E. Hutchison, Stephanie S. O'Malley, Andrew C. Heath

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


This review article discusses the importance of identifying gene-environment interactions for understanding the etiology and course of alcohol use disorders and related conditions. A number of critical challenges are discussed, including the fact that there is no organizing typology for classifying different types of environmental exposures, many key human environmental risk factors for alcohol dependence have no clear equivalents in other species, much of the genetic variance of alcohol dependence in human is not 'alcohol specific', and the potential range of gene-environment interactions that could be considered is so vast that maintaining statistical control of Type 1 errors is a daunting task. Despite these and other challenges, there appears to be a number of promising approaches that could be taken in order to achieve consilience and ecologically valid translation between human alcohol dependence and animal models. Foremost among these is to distinguish environmental exposures that are thought to have enduring effects on alcohol use motivation (and self-regulation) from situational environmental exposures that facilitate the expression of such motivations but do not, by themselves, have enduring effects. In order to enhance consilience, various domains of human approach motivation should be considered so that relevant environmental exposures can be sampled, as well as the appropriate species to study them in (i.e. where such motivations are ecologically relevant). Foremost among these are social environments, which are central to the initiation and escalation of human alcohol consumption. The value of twin studies, human laboratory studies and pharmacogenetic studies is also highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-216
Number of pages17
JournalAddiction Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Alcohol
  • Animal models
  • Environmental effects
  • Gene-environment interaction
  • Genetics
  • Translational research


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