A common genetic variant influences individual responses and adaptation to pain and other stressful stimuli and may underlie vulnerability to many psychiatric and other complex diseases, reports David Goldman, M.D., Chief, Laboratory of Neurogenetics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and colleagues at NIAAA and the University of Michigan. COMT val158met Genotype Affects m-Opioid Neurotransmitter Responses to a Pain Stressor appears in the February 21 issue of Science (299:1240, 2003).
"Emotional response to stress contributes in many drinkers to the development of alcoholism," said George Kunos, M.D., Ph.D., Scientific Director, Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research, NIAAA. "Dr. Goldman and his colleagues have uncovered a genetic explanation for why some individuals and groups may be especially susceptible to consuming alcohol and to increasing their consumption in response to stress."
Earlier reports by first author Jon-Kar Zubieta, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health Research Institute and Department of Radiology, University of Michigan (Science 293:311, 2001) and others showed that responses to pain vary considerably from one person to another, with some of the difference in sensitivity attributable to genetic factors. Subsequent work showed that some of these effects were due to gender-related factors (Journal of Neuroscience 22:5100, 2002). For the current study, Drs. Goldman, Zubieta, and their colleagues used positron emission tomography (PET) targeting the endogenous opioid system to examine the effects of a specific genetic variant on neurochemical brain responses to sustained pain. The researchers also used questionnaires that measure pain-related sensory and affective qualities and internal emotional state to link the neurochemical responses to participants’ psychological and physical experience of the pain challenge.
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