Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Clinical and Translational Sciences

First Advisor

Michael Miles, MD, PhD


Widely effective treatment for alcohol use disorder is not yet available, because the exact biological mechanisms that underlie this disorder are not completely understood. One way to gain a better understanding of these mechanisms is to examine the genetic frameworks that contribute to the risk for developing this disorder. This dissertation examines genetic association data in combination with gene expression networks in the brain to identify functional groups of genes associated with alcohol consumption and dependence.

The first study took advantage of the behavioral complexity of human samples, and experimental capabilities provided by mouse models, by co-analyzing gene expression networks in the mesolimbocortical system of acute alcohol-treated mice and human genetic alcohol dependence association data. This study successfully identified ethanol-responsive gene expression networks with overrepresentation of genes suggestively associated with alcohol dependence in an independent human sample, indicating that gene expression networks in mouse models are informative for identifying mechanistic networks relevant to the risk for developing dependence.

The second study aimed to identify quantitative trait loci for voluntary alcohol drinking behaviors under an intermittent ethanol access paradigm, in the genetically complex Diversity Outbred mice. After determining high heritability for alcohol consumption and dependence amongst the progenitor strains, we identified several specific genetic loci associated with these traits. One locus replicated results from a human association study of alcohol consumption, and provided insight to the potentially contributing genes. Finally, we identified alcohol consumption-correlated gene expression networks in the prefrontal cortex of these mice. We also mapped quantitative trait loci for network expression levels, some of which overlapped with the behavioral loci, indicating that the functions represented by these modules mediate the relationship between the genotypes in that region and drinking behaviors. Overall, our studies revealed neuroplastic and ubiquitin-related genes pathways involved in alcohol consumption in mice and humans, and that likely contribute to the risk for developing dependence.


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