Engineered enzyme eliminates nicotine addiction in preclinical tests

Scientists at Scripps Research have successfully tested a potential new smoking-cessation treatment in rodents.

In a study published online in Science Advances on Oct. 17, 2018, the scientists gave nicotine-dependent rats an engineered enzyme that breaks down nicotine in the bloodstream before it can reach the brain. Treatment quickly reduced the animals’ motivation to take nicotine, reversed their signs of nicotine dependence, and kept them from relapsing when they were given access to nicotine again.

“This is a very exciting approach because it can reduce nicotine dependence without inducing cravings and other severe withdrawal symptoms, and it works in the bloodstream, not the brain, so its side effects should be minimal,” says principal investigator Olivier George, PhD, associate professor at Scripps Research.

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Gene that influences nicotine dependence identified

A DNA variant — located in the DNMT3B gene and commonly found in people of European and African descent — increases the likelihood of developing nicotine dependence, smoking heavily, and developing lung cancer, according to a new study led by RTI International.

Nearly 1 billion people smoke and 6 million premature deaths occur worldwide each year from cigarette smoking, according to the World Health Organization. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and one person dies approximately every 6 seconds from smoking-related causes, according to the WHO.

The new study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, is the largest genome-wide association study of nicotine dependence. Researchers studied more than 38,600 former and current smokers from the United States, Iceland, Finland, and the Netherlands.

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