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Monday, September 6, 2010

Neural Plasticity, Human Genetics, and Risk for Alcohol Dependence

Opportunities for advances in the neurobiology of alcohol dependence have been facilitated by the development of sophisticated neurophysiological and neuroimaging techniques that allow us to have a window on developmental changes in brain structure and function.

The search for genes that may increase susceptibility to alcohol dependence has been greatly facilitated by the recognition that intermediate phenotypes, sometimes referred to as endophenotypes, may be closer to the genetic variation than is the more complex alcohol dependence phenotype.

This chapter will review the evidence that the brain is highly plastic, exhibiting major postnatal changes, especially during adolescence, in neural circuits that appear to influence addiction susceptibility.

This chapter will suggest that heritable aspects of brain structure and function that are seen developmentally may be an important endophenotypic characteristic associated with familial risk for developing alcohol dependence.

Finally, a review of studies showing associations between brain structural and functional characteristics and specific genes will be offered.

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