Translational molecular approaches in substance abuse research

Sasha L. Fulton, Ian Maze

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Excessive abuse of psychoactive substances is one of the leading contributors to morbidity and mortality worldwide. In this book chapter, we review translational research strategies that are applied in the pursuit of new and more effective therapeutics for substance use disorder (SUD). The complex, multidimensional nature of psychiatric disorders like SUD presents difficult challenges to investigators. While animal models are critical for outlining the mechanistic relationships between defined behaviors and genetic and/or molecular changes, the heterogeneous pathophysiology of brain diseases is uniquely human, necessitating the use of human studies and translational research schemes. Translational research describes a cross-species approach in which findings from human patient-based data can be used to guide molecular genetic investigations in preclinical animal models in order to delineate the mechanisms of reward circuitry changes in the addicted state. Results from animal studies can then inform clinical investigations toward the development of novel treatments for SUD. Here we describe the strategies that are used to identify and functionally validate genetic variants in the human genome which may contribute to increased risk for SUD, starting from early candidate gene approaches to more recent genome-wide association studies. We will next examine studies aimed at understanding how transcriptional and epigenetic dysregulation in SUD can persistently alter cellular function in the disease state. In our discussion, we then focus on examples from the literature illustrating molecular genetic methodologies that have been applied to studies of different substances of abuse – from alcohol and nicotine to stimulants and opioids – in order to exemplify how these approaches can both delineate the underlying molecular systems driving drug addiction and provide insights into the genetic basis of SUD.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Experimental Pharmacology
Number of pages30
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameHandbook of Experimental Pharmacology
ISSN (Print)0171-2004
ISSN (Electronic)1865-0325


  • Epigenetics
  • Genetics
  • Molecular approaches
  • Substance use disorder
  • Translational research


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