A Gene Variant That Makes Quitting Smoking Easier

May 17, 2011


A study led by Caryn Lerman, PhD, the Mary W. Calkins Professor of Psychiatry and Interim Director of the Abramson Cancer Center, and published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, was highlighted by The study identified a mechanism that explains why people with a particular genetic background – involving the number of receptors, called "mu opioid" receptors, a smoker has in his or her brain -- may be more prone to relapse when they try to quit smoking. PET scans of smokers’ brains revealed that smokers who have two copies of the common "wild-type" version of the mu opioid receptor gene had significantly more receptors available, compared to smokers who inherited at least one genetic variant of the mu opioid receptor gene. "Smokers with the [variant gene] have an easier time quitting with nicotine replacement therapy and they experience fewer withdrawal symptoms," Lerman told Time.com. “It's extremely complicated. There are so many different pathways in the brain and this plays a role in just one. It's just one SNP [change in one letter of the genetic code] in one gene in one pathway and they're all interacting. In some contexts, the gene may be protective, in others, it may increase risk. With different environmental or pharmacological stimuli, the direction of the association varies. To complicate things even further, there seem to be some sex differences as well." Read More

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