Genes Linked to Tobacco Addiction
Results of a unique genetic study bring scientists one step closer to understanding why some casual smokers become addicted to nicotine.
Akinso: Results of a unique genetic study bring scientists one step closer to understanding why some casual smokers become addicted to nicotine. The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, represents the most powerful and extensive evidence to date of genetic risk factors for tobacco addiction, according to Dr. Joni Rutter, NIDA's Associate Director for the Division of Basic Neurosciences and Behavioral Research.
Rutter: This is a unique study that combines the strengths of two strategies to find genes for nicotine dependence. And it identified some new genes to spark new avenues of research and it also identified different genetic variants from some of the old genes that addiction researchers are familiar with, and hopefully will inspire a fresh look at how these genes are working in addiction. I think this is really crucial work because further research on the genetics of nicotine addiction and the findings from this study will hopefully do three things. One, we think it will help us understand the biology behind nicotine dependence and possibly addiction in general. The second thing is that it'll help identify other therapeutic targets for future medication development. Finally, it will help us to use these genetic variants to better understand how to prevent and treat nicotine addiction and possibly other addictive disorders.
Akinso:To identify those genes that could potentially contribute to nicotine dependence scientists combined a comprehensive genome-wide scan with a more traditional approach that focuses on a limited number of candidate genes, using unrelated nicotine-dependent smokers as cases and unrelated non-dependent smokers as controls. Dr. Rutter said a "candidate gene" has one or more variant forms which appear to be linked to a genetic disease.
Rutter:Nicotine dependence is a really important public health problem. Each year approximately 5 million deaths worldwide can be contributed to diseases caused by tobacco use. So efforts like this large scale genetic study are really crucial for understanding what genetic factors increase a person's risk of transitioning from sort of casually use of the drug to continual use or addiction. And some people say, "well why don't you just quit?" And for most people who are dependent it isn't really that easy. We know that there are biological reasons that make it difficult to quit.
Akinso: Tobacco use, primarily in the form of cigarette smoking, is a leading contributor to disability and death worldwide. Each year, approximately 440,000 Americans die of smoking-related illnesses. Dr. Rutter said the hope is that continued identification of these genes will not only help researchers predict who will become addicted but will also help identify who will respond best to specific cessation therapies. This is Wally Akinso at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Wally Akinso
Sound Bite: Dr. Joni Rutter
Topic: Genes Linked to Tobacco Addiction