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Genes for Nicotine Dependence Identified

in nicotine dependence, and she says understanding how they work may make it possible to develop new treatments for smoking cessation.

The research team analyzed data from almost 2,000 participants in two ongoing studies. One, called the Collaborative Genetic Study of Nicotine Dependence, is a U.S.-based sample that includes both addicted smokers and "social" smokers from St. Louis, Minneapolis and Detroit. The other is an Australian study of smokers of European ancestry called the Nicotine Addiction Genetics study.

The scientists combined two approaches for analyzing genetic information. One approach scanned the entire human genome for suspicious areas of DNA while the second approach closely examined specific target genes.

"The combination of these two approaches represents the most powerful and extensive study on nicotine dependence to date and is an important step in a large-scale, genetic examination of nicotine dependence," says Elias A.

Zerhouni, M.D., the director of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the studies. "As more genomic variations are discovered that are associated with substance abuse, we can better understand addictive disorders."

The researchers identified an area of DNA variation that seems to alter the function of a nicotinic receptor protein. That small variation makes a big difference in risk for nicotine dependence.

Current drug treatments for nicotine dependence continue to be only marginally successful, and Bierut believes using information about genetic traits to tailor medications to individuals could make them significantly more effective. "The type of variant you have at this particular receptor — the alpha-5 nicotinic receptor — may actually predict whether or not you will do well on nicotine replacement therapy," she says.

Proving that, however, will require more studies, and the researchers have launched a new project to study DNA in a sample of bo
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