Genes identified in rodent studies of alcohol intake are enriched for heritability of human substance use

Spencer B. Huggett, Emma C. Johnson, Alexander S. Hatoum, Dongbing Lai, Jenani Srijeyanthan, Jason A. Bubier, Elissa J. Chesler, Arpana Agrawal, Abraham A. Palmer, Howard J. Edenberg, Rohan H.C. Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Rodent paradigms and human genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on drug use have the potential to provide biological insight into the pathophysiology of addiction. Methods: Using GeneWeaver, we created rodent alcohol and nicotine gene-sets derived from 19 gene expression studies on alcohol and nicotine outcomes. We partitioned the SNP heritability of these gene-sets using four large human GWAS: (1) alcoholic drinks per week, (2) problematic alcohol use, (3) cigarettes per day, and (4) smoking cessation. We benchmarked our findings with curated human alcohol and nicotine addiction gene-sets and performed specificity analyses using other rodent gene-sets (e.g., locomotor behavior) and other human GWAS (e.g., height). Results: The rodent alcohol gene-set was enriched for heritability of drinks per week, cigarettes per day, and smoking cessation, but not problematic alcohol use. However, the rodent nicotine gene-set was not significantly associated with any of these traits. Both rodent gene-sets showed enrichment for several non-substance-use GWAS, and the extent of this relationship tended to increase as a function of trait heritability. In general, larger gene-sets demonstrated more significant enrichment. Finally, when evaluating human traits with similar heritabilities, both rodent gene-sets showed greater enrichment for substance use traits. Conclusion: Our results suggest that rodent gene expression studies can help to identify genes that contribute to the heritability of some substance use traits in humans, yet there was less specificity than expected. We outline various limitations, interpretations, and considerations for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2485-2494
Number of pages10
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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