Genetics of Alcoholism, The

Genetics of Alcoholism, The

Almasy, Laura

The Genetics of Alcoholism, edited by Henri Begleiter and Bejamin Kissin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 400 pp. $75.00 (hardcover).

The Genetics of Alcoholism is the first volume in Oxford University Press’s new Alcohol and Alcoholism Series, which will review recent research on all aspects of alcoholism and discuss advances in diagnosis and treatment. The series will be organized around the theme of the disease concept of alcoholism, with each volume addressing a specific topic. Nine volumes are planned; the first four will emphasize basic experimental research, and the final five will be more clinically oriented. The eight books following The Genetics of Alcoholism will cover neuropharmacology and physical dependence, psychological dependence, neurotoxicity, clinical aspects of alcoholism, medical complications, medical treatment and psychotherapy, social issues, and finally the disease concept of alcoholism and its medical and social implications.

The Genetics of Alcoholism gets the series off to a good start with a thorough and well-organized review of all aspects of the topic, including studies of primary human alcoholism, animal models, alcohol sensitivity and metabolism, and normal human drinking behavior. There is a historical emphasis throughout, with equal attention being given to the earliest and the most recent research. Although each chapter can stand alone as a complete essay and is followed by its own extensive bibliography, the chapters are thematically and logically connected. The volume is organized into three main sections covering epidemiology, selective breeding, and phenotypic studies.

The five epidemiological chapters concentrate on the inheritance of alcoholism and related phenotypes. V.M. Hesselbrock begins with a review of twin, family, and adoption studies that provide evidence for a genetic component in the transmission of alcoholism. In chapter 2 M.N. Hesselbrock discusses attempts to construct typological classifications within alcoholism and the relationship of these subtypes to genetic factors. Next, R.J. Cadoret details the inheritance of a number of psychiatric disorders that are associated with alcoholism and that are indicative of heterogeneity within alcoholism. A.C. Heath discusses twin studies of normal drinking behavior that suggest a fairly high heritability for amount and frequency of alcohol consumption in nonalcoholics. J.R. Wilson and E. Laffan end the epidemiological section with a chapter reviewing the weak estimates of heritability for alcohol sensitivity and tolerance obtained through twin, adoption, and sibling studies of nonalcoholic individuals.

The middle four chapters are primarily concerned with rodent models using animals that have been selectively bred for extreme responses to alcohol. In the first chapter of this section, R.A. Deitrich and R.C. Baker detail heritability estimates of various measures of alcohol sensitivity and tolerance in inbred rodent lines selected for high and low levels of impairment and recovery. Next, L. Lumeng et al. discuss the genetics of alcohol preference in rats and mice bred for alcohol seeking or avoidance, including demonstrations of neurological differences between alcohol preferring and nonpreferring rodents. In a somewhat anomalous chapter D.W. Crabb et al. discuss human population studies on alcohol sensitivity, which show associations between adverse reactions to alcohol and certain alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenase genotypes. Although it is well-written, informative, and appropriate to the volume (because this chapter concentrates primarily on the frequency of the alcohol-flush reaction and potentially associated genetic polymorphisms in a variety of human populations and includes little information on selectively bred lines), it is unclear why the editors chose to place this chapter with the selective breeding studies rather than in the epidemiological section. In a more appropriately placed chapter A.E. Kosobud and J.C. Crabbe finish out the selective breeding section with a discussion of alcohol dependence and withdrawal in rodent models.

The final five chapters on phenotype studies involve genetic, neurological, biochemical, or behavioral markers that are correlated with alcoholism and can be considered more proximal to the basic defects underlying its development. I. Diamond and A. Gordon begin this section with a discussion of biochemical differences between alcoholics and nonalcoholics, with an emphasis on the advantages of using cultured cell lines in such analyses. Next, H. Begleiter and B. Porjesz review the neurophysiological and neuropsychological differences found between nonalcoholic males at high and low risk of developing alcoholism, where level of risk is defined by family history. R.E. Tarter et al. detail the contribution of innate temperamental characteristics to the development of alcoholism, with an emphasis on how these traits may interact with the environment at a variety of developmental stages. G.E. McClearn and R. Plomin review quantitative genetic strategies that may help to solve the complex problem of genetic factors in alcoholism. In the final chapter A.F. Wilson and R.C. Elston end the volume with a particularly thorough explanation of linkage analysis and a brief review of the few studies of linkage of alcoholism with genetic markers.

There is some overlap between chapters in the studies discussed, with some of the most basic and influential work appearing in three or more chapters. However, because each chapter has a unique focus, these multiple discussions tend to complement each other rather than being repetitive.

The one serious criticism I have of this book is that, although it does cover some of the most recent research literature on the genetics of alcoholism, it cannot always be considered up-to-date in its treatment of methods, particularly in the field of genetic epidemiology. For example, one discussion of gene-environment interaction suggests that the demonstration of genotypespecific reactions to environmental factors is difficult or impossible in humans, ignoring many recent methodological advances in this area. Although it is true that these innovations in statistical methodology have not yet been applied to the field of alcoholism, it is misleading to suggest that the possibility of gene-environment interaction in alcoholism is an intractable problem.

Taken as a whole, The Genetics of Alcoholism is an excellent review of all aspects of research into the field. It is a comprehensive introduction to the subject for students or researchers new to the field and a rich bibliographic resource for the more experienced. In general, both methodology and terminology are well explained, making the book accessible to those with little knowledge of the specific field and to those with little experience with the specific research methods. Particular praise is due to the authors of the last chapter for their careful explanation of the basic concepts underlying linkage analysis. Readers will also find a superior index, containing page references organized not only by subject but also by author for studies discussed in the text. I would recommend The Genetics of Alcoholism as a valuable reference work for anyone interested in alcoholism research or as supplemental material in an advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate genetics course, where it would provide a thorough and multifaceted approach to a complex human disorder.

Department of Genetics Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research PO Box 760549 San Antonio, TX 78245-0549

Copyright Wayne State University Press Feb 1997

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved