Scientists have used the power of the human genome project to home in on a handful of genes linked to smoking.
Writing in the current edition of Cell, VU University Amsterdam researcher Jacqueline Vink and her colleagues explain how they analysed the DNA of 3497 people to find genetic hotspots known as SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that were significantly associated with either taking up smoking in the past, or being a current smoker.
To increase the power of their analysis the team replicated their study in three other volunteer cohorts comprising 405, 5810 and 1648 participants respectively. The result was a clutch of genes previously unlinked to smoking and including receptors for the nerve transmitter chemical glutamate, genes that control the transport chemicals into nerve cells and adhesion genes that help cells to link together.
The motivation for carrying out the study was straightforward: "Identification of genes underlying the vulnerability to smoking," say the team, "might help identify more effective prevention strategies and thus diminish smoking-related morbidity."