Nicotine dependence pharmacogenetics: role of genetic variation in nicotine-metabolizing enzymes

J Neurogenet. 2009;23(3):252-61. doi: 10.1080/01677060802572887. Epub 2009 Jan 23.


Nicotine-dependence pharmacogenetics research is an emerging field, and a number of studies have begun to characterize the clinical relevance and predictive power of genetic variation in drug-metabolizing enzymes and drug target genes for response to medication. The present paper focuses on evidence for the role of nicotine-metabolizing enzymes in smoking behavior and response to treatment. Nicotine metabolism is mediated primarily by cytochrome P450 2A6 (CYP2A6). Genetic variation in the CYP2A6 gene has been linked with several smoking behavior phenotypes. Individuals who carry null or reduced activity alleles for CYP2A6 smoke fewer cigarettes per day, are less dependent on nicotine, and may have an easier time quitting smoking. A phenotypic measure of CYP2A6 enzyme activity, defined as the ratio of the nicotine metabolites 3'hydroxycotinine/cotinine, also predicts successful quitting with the transdermal nicotine patch, and counseling alone. Faster metabolizers of nicotine respond more poorly to these treatments; however, they may be excellent candidates for non-nicotine therapies, such as bupropion. Inherited variation in the CYP2B6 enzyme is also associated with response to bupropion treatment and counseling alone for smoking cessation. Inhibition of the CYP2A6 enzyme to slow nicotine metabolism is a promising approach to increase nicotine availability and potentially reduce harm from tobacco smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / therapeutic use
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases / genetics*
  • Bupropion / therapeutic use
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2A6
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / metabolism
  • Pharmacogenetics / methods*
  • Phenotype
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / genetics*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / therapy*


  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation
  • Bupropion
  • Nicotine
  • Aryl Hydrocarbon Hydroxylases
  • CYP2A6 protein, human
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2A6