Genetic influences on smoking: candidate genes

Environ Health Perspect. 1998 May;106(5):231-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.98106231.


Twin studies consistently indicate important genetic influences on multiple aspects of smoking behavior, including both initiation and cessation; however, knowledge regarding the role of specific genes is extremely limited. Habit-forming actions of nicotine appear to be triggered primarily at nicotinic receptors on the cell bodies of dopaminergic neurons in the mesolimbic "reward" system of the brain, a region implicated in addiction to other substances including cocaine, opiates, and alcohol. Important aspects of the dopaminergic pathway include synthesis of dopamine in dopaminergic neurons, release of dopamine by presynaptic neurons, receptor activation of postsynaptic neurons, dopamine re-uptake by presynaptic neurons, and metabolism of released dopamine. Research examining the role of allelic variation in genes involved in these functions is being actively pursued with respect to addictive behavior as well as personality traits and psycho- and neuropathologic conditions and has implications for smoking research. In addition, genetic differences in nicotinic receptors or nicotine metabolism might reasonably be hypothesized to play a role in smoking addiction. A role of dopaminergic or other genes in smoking cessation is of particular potential importance, as research in this area may lead to the identification of subgroups of individuals for whom pharmacologic cessation aids may be most effective.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine / genetics
  • Reward
  • Smoking / genetics*
  • Twin Studies as Topic


  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Nicotine
  • Dopamine