Genetic Mutation Makes it Hard to Quit Smoking

Summary: Finding it difficult to quit smoking? Your genes may be to blame. Researchers discover genetic mutations play a key role in nicotine relapse.

Source: Institut Pasteur.

Why is it so difficult to stop smoking? Why do some people relapse months after giving up? Scientists from the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS, in collaboration with Sorbonne University and Inserm, have demonstrated that a genetic mutation already known to be involved in sensitivity to nicotine also plays a role in relapse behavior after cessation in rats. The findings will be published in the journal Current Biology on October 4, 2018.

Nicotine dependence, a chronic condition with a high rate of relapse, is the leading preventable cause of death in developed countries. Seven million people die from tobacco use every year worldwide.

Nicotine, the main psychoactive compound in tobacco, causes this addiction by binding to the nicotinic receptors in the brain. In so doing it activates the reward circuit and creates a feeling of well-being. An individual’s tobacco consumption is therefore closely linked to the sensitivity of these nicotinic receptors, which are composed of five subunits.

In recent years, several large-scale human genetics studies have demonstrated that a mutation in the CHRNA5 gene that codes for the α5 nicotinic receptor subunit is associated with a significant increase in the risk of nicotine dependence. The mutation is highly present in the general population (approximately 35% of Europeans carry it and up to 50% of the population of the Middle East). These findings led scientists from the Integrative Neurobiology of Cholinergic Systems Unit (Institut Pasteur/CNRS) to attempt to determine what stage of nicotine dependence is affected by this mutation and to understand its mechanism of action.

graphic abstract
Re-exposure to nicotine leads to a higher rate of relapse after cessation and to reduced neuronal activation in the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN) in individuals with a mutation in the α5 nicotinic receptor subunit. image is credited to Institut Pasteur.

The scientists introduced the mutation to a rat by using a recent molecular genetics technique. They then evaluated its effect on various behaviors associated with nicotine dependence and demonstrated that it resulted in greater nicotine consumption in higher doses, as well as an increased rate of relapse to nicotine-seeking behavior after cessation. Interestingly, the research showed that this effect on relapse was associated with reduced neuronal activation in the interpeduncular nucleus, a brain structure with the highest concentration of α5 nicotinic receptor subunits. “This study enabled us to assess the impact of this mutation on various stages of nicotine dependence with a greater degree of accuracy. It provided us with an initial explanation for its mechanism of action, which promotes relapse to nicotine-seeking behavior after smoking cessation,” explains Benoit Forget, lead author of the paper.

“The results suggest that a drug capable of increasing the activity of nicotinic receptors containing the α5 subunit could reduce tobacco consumption and lower the risk of relapse after cessation,” adds Uwe Maskos, Head of the Integrative Neurobiology of Cholinergic Systems Unit (Institut Pasteur/CNRS) and last author of the paper.

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: This research was funded by the institutions mentioned above and by the French Foundation for Medical Research (FRM), the European Commission (FP7) and the French National Cancer Institute.

Source: Myriam Rebeyrotte – Institut Pasteur
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is credited to Institut Pasteur.
Original Research: Open access research for “A Human Polymorphism in CHRNA5 Is Linked to Relapse to Nicotine Seeking in Transgenic Rats” by Benoit Forget, Petra Scholze, Francina Langa, Alexandre Mourot, Philippe Faure, and Uwe Maskos
in Current Biology. Published October 4 2018.

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Institut Pasteur”Genetic Mutation Makes it Hard to Quit Smoking.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 4 October 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Institut Pasteur(2018, October 4). Genetic Mutation Makes it Hard to Quit Smoking. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved October 4, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Institut Pasteur”Genetic Mutation Makes it Hard to Quit Smoking.” (accessed October 4, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


A Human Polymorphism in CHRNA5 Is Linked to Relapse to Nicotine Seeking in Transgenic Rats

Tobacco addiction is a chronic and relapsing disorder with an important genetic component that represents a major public health issue. Meta-analysis of large-scale human genome-wide association studies (GWASs) identified a frequent non-synonymous SNP in the gene coding for the α5 subunit of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (α5SNP), which significantly increases the risk for tobacco dependence and delays smoking cessation. To dissect the neuronal mechanisms underlying the vulnerability to nicotine addiction in carriers of the α5SNP, we created rats expressing this polymorphism using zinc finger nuclease technology and evaluated their behavior under the intravenous nicotine-self-administration paradigm. The electrophysiological responses of their neurons to nicotine were also evaluated. α5SNP rats self-administered more nicotine at high doses and exhibited higher nicotine-induced reinstatement of nicotine seeking than wild-type rats. Higher reinstatement was associated with altered neuronal activity in several discrete areas that are interconnected, including in the interpeduncular nucleus (IPN), a GABAergic structure that strongly expresses α5-containing nicotinic receptors. The altered reactivity of IPN neurons of α5SNP rats to nicotine was confirmed electrophysiologically. In conclusion, the α5SNP polymorphism is a major risk factor for nicotine intake at high doses and for relapse to nicotine seeking in rats, a dual effect that reflects the human condition. Our results also suggest an important role for the IPN in the higher relapse to nicotine seeking observed in α5SNP rats.

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