In an article published by The Roanoke Times, researchers at the University of Virginia claim that a “stop smoking” gene may exist. The gene may be the reason some people have success with smoking cessation while others don’t. Ming Li, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at UV, says a certain genetic marker is more common in those people who have succeeded to stop smoking.
“If someone can test for these markers, we might be able to tell who would find it harder to quit,” Li said.
Li’s team has been focusing on a DNA sequence known as Taq1A. Taq1A is also linked to dopamine regulation. The team has examined studies dating back to the mid-1990s. Apparently, when they controlled for ethnicity and excluded anyone who had cancer, a significant relationship between smoking cessation and variations of Taq1A were evident. Dopamine is produced in the brain and is a neurotransmitter. It is linked to many studies of how the brain works.
Li added that it wasn’t clear how the markers affected the ability of people to stop smoking, saying that the findings didn’t apply to everyone. Factors, including stress, could, of course, contribute to someone’s ability to quit smoking.
“This is only generally speaking,” Li said. “I don’t want to say it’s true for everybody.”
From what it sounds like, the gene would definitely help determine how to help smokers quit if the gene is found.
On the NLM website in December, there was an article posted about the “stop smoking” gene research done by the university. In that article, Li said of the Taq1A, “This variant has been studied for years, but this study provided more convincing evidence on the role of this genetic variant in smoking cessation by analyzing a significant large number of smoke samples.”
Li is also working with researchers from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China. The studies in the current analyisis were from a 20-year study conducted between 1994 and 2014. Studies included fewer than 100 participants in the sample to more than 2,000. Quitting success varied between 10 percent to nearly 67 percent.
The research team found a “significant association,” but no real proof that those who had the A2/A2 DNA variant were more inclined to successfully stop smoking. The article said that this should encourage more research into genetics to help people stop smoking. Their belief is that genetic research could help develop personalized treatments that target smokers “inherited predispositions.” The team did caution that “research on this problem remains in its infancy.” Li pointed out even further complexity of the science of the study by saying that “there are many genetic factors involved in smoking addiction. The variant studied in this report is just one of those.”
Dr. Norman Edelman, senior medical consultant for the American Lung Association, said he was not surprised that genetics were thought to have a role to play.
“There’s a huge variability in the ability to quit smoking,” Edelman said.
“Quitting cold turkey, for example, is only effective 5 percent of the time. But I have patients who got up one morning and decided to stop smoking and just stopped. And then I have patients who have tried 10 times and can’t do it.”
Edelman is also a professor of medicine and preventive medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Edelman added that genetics might explain some but not all of those differences.
“The next step, in terms of advancing the science of smoking cessation, is trying to figure out exactly what the gene does, what proteins it codes for, and to see if there’s some way to modify the way it works. That’s probably going to turn out to be very hard.”
Edelman said the research was a “good finding.”
“The more you know about smoking and the predilection to smoke and smoke cessation, the more you are going to be able to develop effective strategies to help patients.”
The results of the study were published online in Translational Psychiatry on December 1, 2015.
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