Bornscheuer L, Lundin A, Forsell Y, Lavebratt C, Melas PA
Sci Rep 12 (1) 4963 [2022-03-23; online 2022-03-23]
Problematic alcohol use is a major contributor to the global burden of death and disabilities, and it represents a public health concern that has grown substantially following the COVID-19 pandemic. The available treatment options remain limited and to develop better pharmacotherapies for alcohol misuse we need to identify suitable biological targets. Previous research has implicated the brain's endocannabinoid system (ECS) in psychiatric and stress-related outcomes, including substance use and habituation to repeated stress. Moreover, genetic variants in the cannabinoid-1 receptor gene (CNR1; CB1R) have been associated with personality traits, which are in turn predictors of substance use disorders. To date, however, no human genome-wide association study has provided evidence for an involvement of the ECS in substance use outcomes. One reason for this ECS-related "missing heritability" may be unexamined gene-environment interactions. To explore this possibility, we conducted cross-sectional analyses using DNA samples and stress-exposure data from a longitudinal Swedish population-based study (N = 2,915). Specifically, we genotyped rs2023239, a functional C/T single nucleotide polymorphism in CNR1, previously reported to be associated with CNR1 binding in the brain, subjective reward following alcohol intake, and alcohol cue-elicited brain activation. Our two outcomes of interest were (i) problematic alcohol use based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), and (ii) personality trait scores based on the Five Factor Model. We found no baseline association between rs2023239 and problematic alcohol use or personality traits. However, there was a clear trend for interaction between rs2023239's risk allele (C) and stressful life events (SLEs) in both childhood and adulthood, which predicted problematic alcohol use. Although not significant, there was also some indication that the risk allele interacted with child SLEs to increase scores on neuroticism. Our study supports the notion that the ECS can affect alcohol intake behaviors by interacting with life adversities and is-to the best of our knowledge-the first to focus on the interaction between CNR1 and stressors in both childhood and adulthood in humans. Further studies are warranted to confirm these findings.