Uncovering the genetic code behind nicotine dependence

Professor Sulev Kõks

New research has identified that some of us are more likely to develop nicotine dependence than others. The answer lies in our genes.

Murdoch University and Perron Institute researcher Professor Sulev Kõks, in collaboration with a team of international researchers, has been working to identify the genetic markers associated with nicotine dependence in order to better develop personalised support systems for those trying to quit.

“The idea is that smokers have different biochemical networks or genes that maintain their nicotine dependence, and so we need different approaches for different groups of people,” said Professor Kõks.
Some people need nicotine substitution, while others would benefit from behavioural support. This personalised support would increase the efficiency of the attempts to quit smoking, which is currently notoriously low.”
With at least 30 per cent of smokers dependent on nicotine, this is the leading cause of why people smoke and eventually why they can’t quit with ease.The research analysed elements of a specific gene, Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA), in Vietnamese male smokers and non-smokers to assess the association with nicotine dependence.

Lower levels of MAOA was associated with higher nicotine dependence, longer smoking duration, and more persistent smoking behaviour, or fewer quit attempts.

“With this research, we tried to understand the functional consequences and biochemical networks of the genetic variants behind the smoking behaviour,” Professor Kõks explained.

“By knowing the mechanisms, we can design specific measures targeting smoking behaviour to support quitting. The team hopes this finding can help address the global health problem that smoking presents.
There are 1.2 billion smokers globally. If we can reduce smoking, we will improve public health and quality of life for many people.” 
Professor Kõks' research into the genetics of smoking comes on the back of 15 years spent researching mental health in combination with genetics and genomics, and so presented a natural fit.

“The genetics of smoking is not very well studied and a few years ago I was offered the opportunity do genetics on smoking behaviour.

“It is very common and relatively easy to measure, therefore offering high quality data and the opportunity to contribute to addressing a major health problem.”

Posted on:

15 May 2020


Science, Research, Health

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