A common DNA variant can predict heavy smoking and lung cancer. Researchers from RTI International studied nearly 39,000 smokers and found that this gene variant is linked with nicotine dependence.
Genetic Epidemiologist Dana Hancock said this gene variant is activated in the cerebellum, the region of the brain that is better known for handling motor function instead of addiction.
“This finding certainly motivates future studies where we can better understand what's going on more broadly in the brain and how we can use that information to help people quit smoking,” Hancock said.
Hancock's team found that this nicotine-dependence gene variant occurs in 44 percent of Europeans and European Americans, and 77 percent of African Americans.
“There are other regions of the brain that have traditionally been studied extensively for addiction and understanding the pathways leading to addiction and how to get people to quit,” Hancock said. “Cerebellum has generally not been on that list.”
Hancock says this finding motivates possible future study of the cerebellum to promote more effective smoking cessation treatments.
RTI says this is the largest genome-wide study of nicotine dependence. The findings have been published in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry.