Single gene linked to smoking addiction, lung cancer

Scientists have just discovered one more tool to use in the ongoing fight against the addictiveness and danger of smoking.

Groundbreaking research from four scientific teams has found a single genetic variation which appears to contribute to both nicotine addiction and lung cancer risk.

Scientists in Iceland, France and two centres in the US have all contributed to this finding, the first time a single genetic variant has been found to be responsible for influencing behaviour and affecting cancer susceptibility.

Several studies comparing genetic material of thousands of people located the suspect gene in a particular cluster on chromosome 15. Everyone has these genes, but some people have a specific variant called rs1051730, which is the one linked to both nicotine addiction and lung cancer.

One group of researchers compared genetic material from approximately 2,000 non-smokers, light and heavy smokers and found a highly significant link between this gene variant and nicotine addiction. Another team found the same results after comparing material from over 14,000 smokers.

Three of the four teams went on to find a highly significant link between this variant and lung cancer by comparing material between smokers with and without lung cancer as well as controls. One group of studies found this gene accounted for 14 per cent of lung cancer cases with statistically similar risks observed regardless of smoking status.

Results from all studies were published in April and May in journals including Nature, Nature Genetics and the online version of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Not only are these findings interesting as another step in the process of understanding human genetics, but they have great potential in the quest for effective anti-smoking treatments as well as lung cancer prevention.

Smokers could get screened for this gene variation and could then be checked regularly for early signs of lung cancer. If targeted smoking cessation treatments are developed it may make it easier for individuals with this danger gene to quit effectively and prevent lung cancer appearing in the first place.

These findings could also lead to the development of new drugs which target the protein made by this gene variation and prevent lung cancer in susceptible people.

Of course, genomic research is ongoing and further links and discoveries are bound to be made in the near future.

Interestingly, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors have also long been thought to play a role in schizophrenia.

No direct connection has been made between the current discoveries and the schizophrenia link and these may end up having no relevance to one another at all. However, it is known that schizophrenic individuals have fewer than normal of the alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors which is thought to be responsible for some of their neurocognitive problems.

At the same time, schizophrenic individuals also tend to be heavy smokers with low lung cancer rates and nicotine improves some symptoms of the disease.

All advances in our understanding of the roles and influence of our genetic makeup are valuable steps that will lead to better ways to help treat and prevent illness and live longer, healthier lives.


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