Tiny Worms May Offer New Clues about Why It’s So Hard to Quit Smoking


Illustration of a cigaretteIllustration credit score: Kaitlyn Beukema

ANN ARBOR—Researchers on the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute discovered beforehand dismissed genetic mechanism could contribute to nicotine dependence, and to the withdrawal results that may make quitting smoking so tough.

Scientists within the lab of Shawn Xu examined withdrawal responses within the millimeter-long roundworms Caenorhabditis elegans, which get hooked on nicotine similar to people.

In the findings, revealed Nov. 7 in Cell Reports, the researchers recognized particular genes and microRNA that play an important position in how the roundworms develop nicotine dependence and withdrawal responses—clues which will carry over to the mammalian realm.

The research took a recent have a look at a beforehand dismissed organic mechanism. Most badysis within the discipline has targeted on how proteins referred to as nicotine acetylcholine receptors contribute to dependence.

Related Article: Nicotine-Eating Bacteria Could Help Smokers Kick the Habit

Xu and his colleagues targeted on an earlier step within the genetic coding course of and found collection of genes have been concerned in a course of that in the end elevated the manufacturing of the nicotine receptor proteins, with microRNAs—a category of small RNA molecules that badist fine-tune gene expression—enjoying a pivotal position.

“We’re seeing a clear link between nicotine, microRNA, the receptor proteins, and nicotine-dependent behavior,” mentioned Jianke Gong, a researcher in Xu’s lab and one of many lead authors on the research.

This mechanism had been dismissed as unimportant to nicotine dependence. However, Xu identified, these conclusions have been made many years in the past, utilizing much less subtle strategies.

Xu’s lab beforehand demonstrated that the worms exhibit behavioral responses to nicotine much like what mammals expertise, and that a number of the genes concerned in nicotine dependence in worms are conserved in mammals—that means the worms are a great genetic and behavioral mannequin for learning nicotine dependence.

Xu hopes that this newest discovery in C. elegans will now lead different scientists to re-examine the position of those microRNAs in nicotine dependence in mammals, and in the end result in a greater understanding of what causes the dependence.

“People believed this question had been settled,” mentioned Xu, a professor on the LSI and within the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology on the U-M Medical School. “But we have better tools now. We, as a field, need to take another look at this mechanism in nicotine addiction.”

The badysis was supported by funding from the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Research Fellowship Programme and the National Institutes of Health. The research authors are: Manish Rauthan, Jianke Gong, Zhaoyu Li, Seth Wescott, and X.Z. Shawn Zhu, all of U-M, and Jiangfeng Liu of the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China.

The Cell Reports paper is titled “MicroRNA regulation of nAChR expression and nicotine-dependent behavior in C. Elegans,” DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.10.043.

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