Tiny Worms may Offer New Clues About why it’s so Hard to Quit Smoking

Understanding what causes the nicotine dependence.


Scientists at the University of Michigan found that a formerly rejected hereditary system may add to nicotine reliance. They found that their effects also make it hard to quit smoking.

During the study, scientists studied withdrawal responses in the millimeter-long roundworms Caenorhabditis elegans, which get hooked on nicotine just like humans. Scientists identified specific genes and microRNA that play an essential role in how the roundworms develop nicotine dependence.

Previous research has only focused on how proteins called nicotine acetylcholine receptors contribute to dependence. In contrast, this is the first study that took a fresh look at a previously dismissed biological mechanism.

Scientists here focused on a series of genes were involved in a process that ultimately increased the production of the nicotine receptor proteins along with microRNAs that aids adjust gene expression.

Jianke Gong, lead author of the study said, “We’re seeing a clear link between nicotine, microRNA, the receptor proteins, and nicotine-dependent behavior.”

“This mechanism had been dismissed as unimportant to nicotine dependence. However, those conclusions were made decades ago, using less sophisticated techniques.”

The worms showed several behavioral responses to nicotine as mammals did. It suggests the worms are a good genetic and behavioral model for studying nicotine dependence.

According to scientists, their study will inspire scientists in order to examine the role of these microRNAs in nicotine reliance.

Shawn Xu, a professor at the LSI said, “People believed this question had been settled. But we have better tools now. We, as a field, need to take another look at this mechanism in nicotine addiction.”

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