Systems Genetics of Alcohol and Other Substance Use Disorders (SYSGEN)

Identifying genes that affect susceptibility to alcohol and other substance use disorders (addiction) is an important step to reducing the economic cost (~$150 billion) of drug addiction in America. Polygenicity and phenotypical heterogeneity of addiction have thus far impeded identification of significant gene sets. This study will attempt to describe the genetic architecture of addiction utilizing a novel integrative approach. SYSGEN is funded by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award (K01, AA021113).

Collaborators: Drs. Jason Bubier, Elissa Chessler, Andrew Heath, Valerie Knopik, Arthur Lander, James MacKillop, Ming Li, John McGeary, Ben Raphael, Peter Visscher, Jingjing Yang

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The BGA Lab is preparing to pilot a longitudinal student survey of undergraduate freshmen in the Atlanta area. The goals of MAPme are to understand changes in drug- and alcohol-related behavior during college, a high-risk period for the onset of substance use and other psychiatric outcomes. We will examine the relation of substance use to genetic variation, neuropsychological functioning, mood, stress, and general health and well-being. Of particular interest is how neurocognitive functioning changes across the various stages of drug use.

Emory Collaborators: Dr. Michael Treadway, Ms. Heather Zesiger


Genetics of Alcohol Withdrawal

Phenotypic and genetic data from NIAAA’s Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism will be used to examine endophenotypes that capture the biological mechanisms related to alcohol withdrawal. The endophenotypes will be used to assess the joint distribution of genetic effects that comprise specific neural and molecular pathways that underlie alcohol withdrawal and derive more accurate representations of individual differences in alcohol withdrawal. This will be achieved using a systems biology framework as previously described in Palmer et al., 2012, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 125(3).

Collaborators: Drs. Kathleeen Bucholz and Andrew Heath, Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA) Project

Student Poster: An Examination of the Genetic Architecture of Alcohol Withdrawal


Pharmacogenetics of Methadone Maintenance Treatment Response

Opioids are commonly used medications for pain but have very high liability for misuse and addiction. There are also street opioids such heroin and the deadly fentanyl and carfentanil. There are relatively few treatment options for opioid use disorder (OUD) and the most common is a substitution with methadone (methadone maintenance treatment, MMT), a synthetic opioid. However, MMT outcomes vary greatly, with the average patient receiving MMT for multiple years and many continuing to use opioids while on MMT. There is preliminary evidence that differences in MMT response are partially determined by the individual genetic makeup. Identifying how genes affect the response to methadone has the potential to substantially improve the opioid addiction treatment outcomes via a precision medicine approach. Dr. Palmer and the BGA-LAB will collaborate with PIs Drs. James Mackillop & Zena Samaan to leverage innovations in genomic approaches to systematically examine individual variation in MMT response.


GWAS of Conduct Disorder

This genome-wide association project is conducted in collaboration with the Waldman Lab  at Emory University.


Sociocultural, Personality, Neurocognitive, and Biological Factors of African American Drug Use & Health

Data obtained through collaborations (Dr. Steven Kogan) with the Center for Translational and Prevention Science and the Carolina African American Twins Study of Aging (Keith Whitfield, PI) allow for the examination of the role of the environment in shaping individual differences in  patterns of substance use among rural African Americans. African Americans and many other minority populations in the US are disproportionately impacted by the negative outcomes of substance involvement. Moreso, these effects are exacerbated among minorities in rural communities. The goal of these collaborations is to contribute to the global mission towards personalized medicine by developing and testing hypotheses to inform our understanding of behavioral and cognitive factors associated with drug use in African Americans.

Student Poster: Direct and Moderating Effects of Social Support on African American Alcohol and Tobacco Use