Heavy Smoking Tied to Genetic Variations
> 1/30/2008 12:38:21 PM

In past studies, researchers have demonstrated that genes play a role in nicotine addiction, affecting our likelihood of becoming addicted to nicotine and helping to determine the amount of difficulty we face upon quitting. A new study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, has added to our understanding of how genetic factors contribute to nicotine addiction. By studying data from two groups of smokers, a team of researchers has discovered an association between two specific genes and heavy smoking.

The study included data on two different groups of European and American smokers, one consisting of roughly 6,000 people and the other of about 8,000. The researchers analyzed DNA samples from these two groups, looking specifically for genetic variations that could predict the amount of cigarettes the subjects smoked. They identified two genes that appeared to be involved. Variations in these genes, the alpha 3 and alpha 5 nicotine receptor subunits, correlated with consistent, heavy smoking, which the researchers defined as smoking a pack or more each day. Both genes play a role in the addiction process, creating the proteins to which nicotine binds and helping to activate binding sites in the brain that facilitate addiction. This study indicates that variations in the alpha 3 and alpha 5 nicotine receptor subunits may affect an individual's chances of becoming a heavy smoker, and future studies should investigate the ways in which these genes influence other aspects of nicotine addiction.

Despite all we know about the dangers of cigarettes, smoking remains the leading preventably cause of death, killing roughly 400,000 American adults every year, according to the CDC. By studying the genetic factors involved in nicotine addiction, researchers may be able to develop new treatments for smoking cessation by targeting the mechanisms directly involved in the addiction process. With a better understanding of how specific genes contribute to addiction, physicians may also be able to predict which forms of treatment will be most effective for a given patient. As we learn more about how our genes affect nicotine addiction, we will hopefully find more effective ways of helping those most at risk.

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