Can't Quit Smoking? Blame Your Brain


A possible huge breakthrough in the battle against nicotine -- researchers say a genetic variation in the brain may be to blame for some people's inability to quit smoking.

According to a study released Sunday by the medical journal Nature, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida have pinpointed a brain pathway that aids in regulating the desire to smoke. When the receptor functions normally, consuming nicotine triggers a message to the brain which dampens further urges.

The team found that when rats were genetically modified to alter the receptor function, the amount of nicotine they consumed escalated greatly -- simply put, their brains were not getting the “stop” message. The researchers noted that similar genetic variations exist in humans.

"Our data probably explain the fact that individuals with this genetic variation have increased vulnerability to developing tobacco addiction," Kenny told the news agency AFP. "They are likely to be far less sensitive to the adverse properties of the drug, and are thus more likely to acquire a nicotine habit."

Roughly one-third of the U.S. population is believed to have the gene.

"This study has important implications for new approaches to tobacco cessation," said University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Jon Lindstrom, who is also studying nicotine addiction.


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