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Scientists discover a genetic dependence to nicotine

Scientists from an EU-supported consortium have discovered that a mutation in a human gene confers nicotine dependence. The results stem out from the European project GENADDICT (Genomics, mechanisms and treatment of addiction), which is supported by 8.1 million euros' worth of funding from the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research and by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Nicotine dependence is believed to be the main reason for continued smoking. GENADDICT aims to identify the genes involved in this and other addictions by bringing together leading European public and private research organisations. It is an integrated multidisciplinary project that connects human genetics research in addicted patients with genomic studies of mice.

A particular variant of a nicotine-receptor gene impacts smoking behaviour

Scientists have shown that a particular variant of a nicotine-receptor gene impacts smoking behaviour and hence confers a 30% increase in risk of lung cancer and a 20% increase in risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a common and debilitating constriction of the arteries to the legs. Roughly half of the people of European descent carry at least one copy of this genetic variant, which does not influence smoking initiation, but makes it more difficult to quit.
Nicotine addiction (image: www.pixelio.de)
The mutation which contributes to nicotine addiction is located on chromosome 15q24 and affects one nicotine-acetylcholine receptor in the brain. A study of 11,000 Icelandic smokers participating in the research showed that the mutation is more common in heavier smokers than in smokers overall and in the general population. It was also correlated with likelihood of clinical diagnosis of nicotine dependence. Comparisons between current and past smokers showed that people carrying this variant tend to smoke more and are less likely to quit smoking.

A milestone in the addiction research

GENADDICT aims to identify the genes involved in this and other addictions. GENADDICT is a major collaboration between 12 teams across 7 European countries, including 2 new Member States (Hungary and Poland) and 1 associated country (Iceland). The consortium includes an SME developed from the research success of one of the partners. The teams belong to the following organisations: University of Surrey (UK, coordinator), University Pompeu Fabra (ES), CNRS (FR), INSERM (FR), Life & Brain GmbH (DE), the Polish Academy of Sciences (PL), the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HU) and deCODE genetics (IS).

The results are a milestone in the identification of genetic risk factors and genes involved in addiction.

Source: EU-Commission - 03.04.08
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/scientists-discover-a-genetic-dependence-to-nicotine