U.Va. Health System Researchers Locate Genes Related to Nicotine Dependence

December 10, 2007

Dec. 10, 2007 — Two more likely genetic locations for nicotine addiction have been identified by University of Virginia Health System researchers. Their work explored the role of genetics, environmental factors and a brain compound called GABA, a chemical substance of the central nervous system that inhibits neurons in the brain.
Through a painstaking analysis of these many factors, researchers may be able to identify individuals who are vulnerable to nicotine dependence and implement prevention strategies tailored to their needs.
Ming Li, professor of genetics in psychiatry and neurosciences, recruited more than 2,000 participants from more than 600 families with smokers. The researchers examined different regions on various chromosomes that showed significant linkage to nicotine addiction.
They then searched for susceptibility genes within these regions that appear to be associated with addiction. Some of these are the GABA-B receptor subunit 2 (GABAB2) gene on chromosome 9, and the GABA-A receptor-associated protein (GABARAP) gene on chromosome 17.
“The results of this study are important because they will help us understand the mechanisms involved in the development of tobacco dependence and allow us to optimize currently available treatments, based on patients’ genotypes for known genes,” said Ming Li. “This research may provide biological targets for the development of novel medicines in the future.”

Li presented his findings today at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's annual meeting in Boca Raton, Fla.
Li said the research could help curb smoking rates, since researchers may be able to predict who is more prone to nicotine addiction. Tobacco is one of the most widely used substances; it kills more than 435,000 Americans each year, and despite increasing public awareness of the health risks associated with its use, little reduction in smoking prevalence has been achieved nationwide in recent years.