Genes, Meds & Smoking

Smoking cessation drugs may be more effective for people with a certain genetic makeup

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) What if different smoking cessation methods were needed for smokers with different genes? This could mean that not all smokers would find success with the same approaches to quitting.

Researchers found that genetic differences may play a role in smoking behaviors and cessation success.

This information may improve quitting techniques by matching the right technique for the genetic makeup.

"Talk to your doctor about help with quitting smoking today!"

Laura Jean Bierut, MD, professor of psychiatry, and Li-Shiun Chen, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University, wanted to know whether genes can determine if smoking cessation aids will be useful for certain individuals.

In the brain there are nicotine receptors in gene clusters CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4.

Different genetic makeup could explain why some people are more prone to smoking, have more difficulty quitting and respond differently to smoking cessation drugs.

According to Dr. Bierut: “Smokers whose genetic makeup puts them at the greatest risk for heavy smoking, nicotine addiction and problems kicking the habit also appear to be the same people who respond most robustly to pharmacologic therapy for smoking cessation."

"Our research suggests that a person’s genetic makeup can help us better predict who is most likely to respond to drug therapy so we can make sure those individuals are treated with medication in addition to counseling or other interventions.”

The research team looked at 5,216 smokers from one study and 1,073 from a smoking cessation trial. They were looking for links between a person’s ability to quit smoking and the genes that may increase the risk of serious nicotine addiction.

Dr. Chen states: “People with the high-risk genetic markers smoked an average of two years longer than those without these high-risk genes, and they were less likely to quit smoking without medication. The same gene variants can predict a person’s response to smoking-cessation medication, and those with the high-risk genes are more likely to respond to the medication.”

Out of the smoking cessation trial group, participants with high-risk genes were three times more likely to have success with drug treatments like nicotine patches and gum, and pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Bierut asserts: “Clearly these genes aren’t the entire story—other genes play a role and environmental factors also are important. But we’ve identified a group that’s responding to pharmacologic treatment and a group that’s not responding, and that’s a key step in improving, and eventually tailoring, treatments to help people quit smoking.”

Dr. Bierut also suggests that those who lack high-risk genes are far less likely to respond to drug-based treatments and would probably do better with counseling and non-drug treatments. 

This study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, May 2012. Funding was provided by grants from the National Cancer Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Human Genome Research Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 31, 2012
Last Updated:
August 22, 2012