Magazine article USA TODAY

Cocaine Death More Likely for White People

Magazine article USA TODAY

Cocaine Death More Likely for White People

Article excerpt

The genetic circumstances under which common mutations on a pair of genes interact in the presence of cocaine to produce a nearly eightfold increased risk of death as a result of abusing the drug have been identified in research published in Translational Psychiatry.

An estimated one in three whites who died of cocaine exposure is a carrier of variants that make cocaine abuse particularly deadly. The variants are found in two genes that affect how dopamine modulates brain activity. Dopamine is a chemical messenger vital to the regular function of the central nervous system, and cocaine is known to block transporters in the brain from absorbing dopamine after its release.

The same dopamine genes also are targeted by medications for a number of psychiatric disorders. The researchers say these findings very well could help determine how patients will respond to certain drugs based on whether they, too, have mutations that interact in ways that affect dopamine flow and signaling.

Scientists previously had identified a total of seven mutations on two dopamine-related genes, some of which were linked to the risk for cocaine abuse death. Years of molecular genetics studies showed that the mutations had specific functions--a single variant alone was associated with an almost threefold increase in risk of dying of cocaine abuse--and led researchers to hypothesize that the variants probably interacted because the genes themselves relied on each other for proper function. …

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