Background: Gender differences are known to exist in the prevalence, characteristics, and course of alcohol dependence. Elucidating gender differences in the characteristics of alcohol dependence is important in gender-based medicine and may improve treatment outcomes. Many studies have shown that genetic factors are associated with the risk of alcohol dependence in both genders. Polymorphisms of alcohol dehydrogenase-1B (ADH1B) and aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH2) are strong genetic determinants of alcohol dependence. This study aimed to clarify gender differences in the effects of ADH1B and ALDH2 polymorphism on the development of alcohol dependence. Methods: Subjects were 200 female alcoholics and 415 male alcoholics hospitalized in Kurihama Alcoholism Center. Clinical information and background data were obtained by chart review. ALDH2 and ADH1B genotyping was performed by the polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism method. Results: The onset age of female alcoholics with inactive ALDH2 genotype was significantly lower than those with active ALDH2 genotype, but the onset age did not differ between the inactive and active ALDH2 group in male alcoholics. The difference in onset age between the ADH1B genotype groups did not reach significant levels. The prevalence of comorbid psychiatric disorders, including major depression, eating disorder, panic disorder, and borderline personality disorder, was significantly higher in female alcoholics with inactive ALDH2 or superactive ADH1B than in those with active ALDH2 or normal ADH1B. Conclusions: ALDH2 polymorphism appears to have contrasting effects on the development of alcoholism in women and men. One possible reason for this gender difference may be the high prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities in female alcoholics with inactive ALDH2.
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