Effects of variation at the ALDH2 locus on alcohol metabolism, sensitivity, consumption, and dependence in Europeans

Peter A. Dickson, Michael R. James, Andrew C. Heath, Grant W. Montgomery, Nicholas G. Martin, John B. Whitfield, Andrew J. Birley

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35 Scopus citations


Background: The low-activity variant of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) gene found in East Asian populations leads to the alcohol flush reaction and reduces alcohol consumption and risk of alcohol dependence (AD). We have tested whether other polymorphisms in the ALDH2 gene have similar effects in people of European ancestry. Methods: Serial measurements of blood and breath alcohol, subjective intoxication, body sway, skin temperature, blood pressure, and pulse were obtained in 412 twins who took part in an alcohol challenge study. Participants provided data on alcohol reactions, alcohol consumption, and symptoms related to AD at the time of the study and subsequently. Haplotypes based on 5 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were used in tests of the effects of variation in the ALDH2 gene on alcohol metabolism and alcohol's effects. Results: The typed SNPs were in strong linkage disequilibrium and 2 complementary haplotypes comprised 83% of those observed. Significant effects of ALDH2 haplotype were observed for breath alcohol concentration, with similar but smaller and nonsignificant effects on blood alcohol. Haplotype-related variation in responses to alcohol, and reported alcohol consumption, was small and not consistently in the direction predicted by the effects on alcohol concentrations. Conclusions: Genetic variation in ALDH2 affects alcohol metabolism in Europeans. However, the data do not support the hypothesis that this leads to effects on alcohol sensitivity, consumption, or risk of dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1093-1100
Number of pages8
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Alcohol Dependence
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • Blood Alcohol
  • Breath Alcohol
  • Haplotype Association


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