In a new target population researchers have found that alcoholics who have a particular variant of an opioid-receptor gene appear to respond better to naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that is used to reduce alcohol craving and relapse.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) researchers who reviewed data from the 2001-2004 COMBINE (Combined Pharmacotherapies and Behavioral Interventions for Alcohol Dependence) study found that 87 percent of patients with the OPRM1 gene variant reported good outcomes with naltrexone treatment, compared to 49 percent of those receiving placebos and 55 percent of individuals lacking the gene variant who received either a placebo or naltrexone.

The study defined good outcomes as abstinence or moderate alcohol consumption without attendant problems.

“Analysis of the large COMBINE patient population increases confidence that the OPRM1 variant is in part responsible for positive responses to naltrexone,” said Ting-Kai Li, director of NIAAA. “This study points to the promise of research on gene-medication interactions to refine treatment selection, improve clinical results, and inform ongoing medications development.”

The research was published in the Feb. 4, 2008 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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