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Scientists Find Gene Variant Linked to Opioid Addiction in European-Americans

Why are some people addicted to opioids, while others take them and then quit? 

David Royse | LedeTree

Scientists have known for some time that some degree of susceptibility to addiction is genetic.

They now may have a good idea of what genetic variant causes opioid addiction.

Yale University reported this past week that a genome-wide analysis of more than 5,000 opioid users showed a particular gene variant associated with dependence on opioid drugs in European-Americans. An earlier study identified a different group of gene variants associated with opioid addiction in African-Americans.

For European-Americans, the problem gene is called RGMA, a gene involved in cell death and nerve damage, Yale researchers reported last week in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

RGMA has also been linked to damage caused by stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers found that a variant RGMA allele was found more frequently in opioid-addicted people than in others.

“We hope that a better understanding of the biological influences on opioid use will lead to novel treatments — biological knowledge can lead to treatments, and these are needed rather desperately for opioid dependence” senior author Dr. Joel Gelernter, Yale’s Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry, professor of genetics and of neuroscience, and senior author of the new study, said in a report on Yale’s website.

The cause of addiction likely isn’t entirely genetic – but those with the variant gene are more susceptible to environmental factors that cause dependence, researchers said.

“Genes responsible for opioid dependence have been difficult to identify, as the disorder stems from a complex combination of genetic alterations and environmental influences, such as drug availability,” Dr. John Krystal, chair of Yale’s Department of Psychiatry and editor of Biological Psychiatry, said in the Yale release.

You can read the study in Biological Psychiatry here

About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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