Crucial roles of the CHRNB3-CHRNA6 gene cluster on chromosome 8 in nicotine dependence: update and subjects for future research

Transl Psychiatry. 2016 Jun 21;6(6):e843. doi: 10.1038/tp.2016.103.


Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death throughout the world. Nicotine, the primary addictive compound in tobacco, plays a vital role in the initiation and maintenance of its use. Nicotine exerts its pharmacological roles through nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which are ligand-gated ion channels consisting of five membrane-spanning subunits. Besides the CHRNA4, CHRNB2 and CHRNA5/A3/B4 cluster on chromosome 15, which has been investigated intensively, recent evidence from both genome-wide association studies and candidate gene-based association studies has revealed the crucial roles of the CHRNB3-CHRNA6 gene cluster on chromosome 8 in nicotine dependence (ND). These studies demonstrate two distinct loci within this region. The first one is tagged by rs13277254, upstream of the CHRNB3 gene, and the other is tagged by rs4952, a coding single nucleotide polymorphism in exon 5 of that gene. Functional studies by genetic manipulation in mice have shown that α6*-nAChRs, located in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), are of great importance in controlling nicotine self-administration. However, when the α6 subunit is selectively re-expressed in the VTA of the α6(-/-) mouse by a lentiviral vector, the reinforcing property of nicotine is restored. To further determine the role of α6*-nAChRs in the process of nicotine-induced reward and withdrawal, genetic knock-in strains have been examined, which showed that replacement of Leu with Ser in the 9' residue in the M2 domain of α6 produces nicotine-hypersensitive mice (α6 L9'S) with enhanced dopamine release. Moreover, nicotine-induced upregulation may be another ingredient in the pathology of nicotine addiction although the effect of chronic nicotine exposure on the expression of α6-containing receptors is controversial. To gain a better understanding of the pathological processes underlying ND and ND-related behaviors and to promote the development of effective smoking cessation therapies, we here present the most recent studies concerning the genetic effects of the CHRNB3-CHRNA6 gene cluster in ND.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 8 / genetics*
  • Gene Expression / genetics
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Multigene Family / genetics*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics*
  • Smoking / genetics
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / genetics*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiopathology


  • CHRNA6 protein, human
  • CHRNB3 protein, human
  • Receptors, Nicotinic