Inactive aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH2) is a well-known biological deterrent of heavy drinking among Asians, although some individuals who have inactive ALDH2 do become alcoholics. Unknown biological mechanisms facilitating the development of the disease may operate in such a way that these individuals overcome adverse reactions, or they may lower the intensity of the reactions. To examine our hypothesis that ethanol-oxidizing isoenzymes have lower catalytic properties in some persons, we investigated polymorphisms of ethanol-oxidizing enzymes that may alter their catalytic activities, viz., alcohol dehydrogenase-2 (ADH2) and -3 (ADH3), and cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYTP2E1), among 80 Japanese alcoholics with inactive ALDH2, 575 alcoholics with active ALDH2, and 461 controls. Although higher ADH2*1 and ADH3*2 allele frequencies were observed in alcoholics than in controls, there was no significant difference in ADH2 and ADH3 genotypes between alcoholics with inactive ALDH2 and alcoholics with active ALDH2. The genotype distributions of CYTP2E1 did not differ among the three groups, indicating no allelic association of the c1/c2 polymorphism of CYTP2E1 with alcoholism. These results suggest that genetic variations in ethanol-oxidizing activities are involved in the development of the disease, but that these variations are not specific in alcoholics with inactive ALDH2, a group at genetically low risk for alcoholism.
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