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A study carried out by the UPF reveals that genetic factors induce relapse in nicotine addiction

The study, conducted by a team of researchers coordinated by Rafael Maldonado, director of the Neuropharmacology Unit of the UPF Department of Experimental and Health Sciences (CEXS), was published recently in the digital edition of the journal Biological Psychiatry, under the title “A Common Genetic Predisposition to Stress Sensitivity and Stress-Induced Nicotine Craving”.

As some clinical studies had already outlined, stress is one of the most important causes of relapse observed in abstinent smokers. The study has revealed, in genetically-modified animals, that there is effectively a genetic predisposition to suffer more or less sensitivity to stress, and that this circumstance is capable of significantly modifying behaviour patterns, to the extent of inducing relapse in the craving for nicotine.

The study findings are included in the project “Vulnerability to nicotine addiction” which began in late 2004 and has the support of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH), that granted Rafael Maldonado one and a half million dollars (approximately 1,172,000 euros) to direct this ambitious project which has the participation of other European research groups, all of which are coordinated from the UPF.

Through the use of sophisticated genomic and behavioural analytical methods, the study has evaluated not only physical nicotine dependency but also affective manifestations and changes in behaviour caused by its presence in the body, such as states of anxiety, the craving to smoke or relapses after long periods of abstinence - this being one of the most innovative aspects of the study.

One of the aims of this project is to identify the neurobiological substrate underlying differences in individual vulnerability to nicotine addiction. Studies in genetically-modified mice show how nicotine affects the endogenous opiate system, the function of which in all mammals is to alleviate pain, increase positive emotions and provide pleasurable feelings. In short, the aim is to know more about the mechanisms involved in nicotine addiction that make us more prone to the habit of smoking.

Núria Pérez-Pérez | alfa
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