Can't quit smoking?

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02 Dec 2015

A 'pleasure' gene that makes it harder to quit smoking has been discovered by scientists.

Smokers are less or more able to give up cigarettes, depending on the form of the specific protein they carry, new research suggests.

The findings could pave the way for more personalised treatments to help people kick their habits.

The gene in question, dubbed Taq1A, plays a role in processing dopamine, a hormone in the brain which is associated with pleasure and reward, and is released when a person smokes.

Scientists at Zhejiang University in China found those people with variation of the gene known as A2/A2 found it easier to give up cigarettes.

That was compared with individuals who carried other variations, called A1/A1 or A1/A2.  

Dr Yunlong Ma, of Zhejiang University, said: 'Cigarette smoking is the most common preventable cause of many diseases that contribute to about six million deaths worldwide each year.

'Twin and family studies indicate smoking behaviours are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

'There exists a considerable interest in identifying genetic factors encouraging smoking cessation, of which the heritability is estimated to be about 50 per cent.'

Researchers pooled data from 22 earlier studies, involving a total of 9,487 people.

Their findings, published in Transnational Psychiatry, adds to growing evidence that genes, rather than willpower alone, may be the reason some smokers cannot stub out their habit.

Increasing concentrations of dopamine are believed to play a role in the development of nicotine dependence.

Previous studies have focused on determining if mutations in genes that control dopamine could contribute to smoking behaviour.

Some have analysed the gene DRD2 as those who carry certain mutations of it DRD2 are more prone to alcoholism, drug use and other addictive behaviours, including smoking.

Dr Ma added: 'In summary, the results of the current meta-analyses reveal a statistically significant association between the DRD2 Taq1A polymorphism (mutation) and smoking cessation in a large Caucasian population.

'Our results provide supportive evidence for further investigation of personalized medicine for smoking cessation according to individual genotypes.'

Dr Ma urged further studies to understand how variants of Taq1A could influence the expression of DRD2.

Previous research has identified genetic variants that increase a person's likelihood of becoming a lifelong heavy smoker.

Those affected are more easily hooked as teenagers and quickly progress to smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day.

As adults, they find it harder to quit the habit than individuals with a different genetic make-up.

Another study found people with a version of a gene called CYP2A6, which plays a role in processing nicotine in the body, also found it harder to give up smoking.  


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