Genetic variation in the endogenous opioid system has been identified as 1 potential source of individual variability in naltrexone treatment outcomes. The majority of naltrexone pharmacogenetic studies have focused on a particular single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) of the mu-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1; rs1799971; commonly known as the Asn40Asp SNP) in Caucasian samples with decidedly mixed results. The goal of this study was to test the pharmacogenetic effects of naltrexone on subjective response to alcohol and self-administration of alcohol in individuals of East Asian descent. We hypothesized that naltrexone, compared with placebo, would potentiate the aversive and sedative effects of alcohol and reduce alcohol self-administration to a greater extent in Asp40 carriers.
Participants (N = 77; Asn40Asn, n = 29; Asn40Asp, n = 34, and Asp40Asp, n = 14) completed 2 double-blinded and counterbalanced experimental sessions: one after taking naltrexone (50 mg/d) for 5 days and one after taking matched placebo for 5 days. In each experimental session, participants received a priming dose of intravenous alcohol up to the breath alcohol concentration target of 0.06 g/dl which was immediately followed by an alcohol self-administration period (1 hour).
There were no pharmacogenetic effects observed for alcohol-induced stimulation, sedation, craving for alcohol, or alcohol self-administration in the laboratory. During the self-administration period, Asp40 carriers consumed fewer drinks and had a longer latency to first drink as compared to Asn40 homozygotes.
These findings in East Asians add to the mixed literature on naltrexone pharmacogenetics from predominantly Caucasian samples and highlight the complexity of these effects and their overall limited replicability. It is plausible that a consistent pharmacogenetic effect in tightly controlled preclinical and experimental medicine models "fades" in more complex and heterogeneous settings and samples.