The CHRNA5-A3-B4 gene cluster in nicotine addiction

Mol Psychiatry. 2012 Sep;17(9):856-66. doi: 10.1038/mp.2011.122. Epub 2011 Oct 4.


Nicotine addiction (NA) is a common and devastating disease, such that the annual number of deaths (world-wide) from tobacco-related diseases will double from 5 million in the year 2000 to 10 million in 2020. Nicotine is the only substance in tobacco which animals and humans will self-administer. NA, as a lifetime diagnosis, has been assessed in various approaches, including the concept of cigarettes per day (CPD). Other assessments of NA are somewhat more comprehensive, such as the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence or the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (fourth edition) diagnosis of nicotine dependence. These different measures have moderate agreement with one another. Twin, family and adoption studies have shown that these different assessments of NA have substantial heritability (that fraction of risk attributable to genetic factors). The heritability of NA has been estimated at 50-75%, depending on the definition and the population under study. DNA-based studies of NA have been somewhat successful in identifying a common haplotype, which increases risk for NA among European-origin populations. This haplotype explains a small amount of variance, accounting for ∼1 CPD, and it includes the α5 and the α3 nicotinic receptor subunit genes (CHRNA5 and CHRNA3). The review will focus on this implicated region. In this risk region, there is a common (among European-origin people) mis-sense single-nucleotide polymorphism in the CHRNA5 gene (D398N), which changes a conserved amino acid from aspartic acid to asparagine. The risk allele (398N) confers decreased calcium permeability and more extensive desensitization, according to in vitro cellular studies, raising the possibility that a positive allosteric modulator of the (α4β2)(2)α5 type of nicotinic receptor might have therapeutic potential in NA. There are other genetic influences on NA in this region, apart from the mis-sense variant, and additional biological experiments must be done to understand them.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / genetics
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genetic Association Studies / methods
  • Genetic Linkage / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Multigene Family / genetics*
  • Mutation, Missense / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics*
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / diagnosis
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / genetics*
  • White People / genetics


  • CHRNA5 protein, human
  • CHRNB4 protein, human
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • nicotinic receptor subunit alpha3