The causal role of smoking in anxiety and depression: a Mendelian randomization analysis of the HUNT study

Psychol Med. 2013 Apr;43(4):711-9. doi: 10.1017/S0033291712001274. Epub 2012 Jun 12.


Background: Cigarette smoking is strongly associated with mental illness but the causal direction of the association is uncertain. We investigated the causal relationship between smoking and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the Norwegian HUNT study using the rs1051730 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) variant located in the nicotine acetylcholine receptor gene cluster on chromosome 15 as an instrumental variable for smoking phenotypes. Among smokers, this SNP is robustly associated with smoking quantity and nicotine dependence. Method In total, 53 601 participants were genotyped for the rs1051730 SNP and provided information on smoking habits and symptoms of anxiety and depression using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).

Results: Self-reported smoking was positively associated with the prevalence of both anxiety and depression, and the measured polymorphism was positively associated with being a current smoker and the number of cigarettes smoked in current smokers. In the sample as a whole, risk of anxiety increased with each affected T allele [odds ratio (OR) 1.06, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.02-1.09, p = 0.002] but there was no association with depression (p = 0.31). However, we found no clear association of the polymorphism with either anxiety (OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.97-1.09, p = 0.34) or depression (OR 1.02, 95% CI 0.95-1.09, p = 0.62) among smokers.

Conclusions: As there was no association of the smoking-related rs1051730 SNP with anxiety and depression among smokers, the results suggest that smoking is not a cause of anxiety and depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alleles
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / genetics
  • Body Mass Index
  • Causality
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 15 / genetics
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / epidemiology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics*
  • Self Report
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / genetics
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Nicotinic