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Nicotine Research


If your first cigarette gave you a buzz & you now smoke, a gene may be to blame
If your first cigarette gave you a buzz & you now smoke, a gene may be to blame
Is fear of gaining weight keeping many women from trying to quit smoking? U-M research suggests so
Is fear of gaining weight keeping many women from trying to quit smoking? U-M research suggests so

Cigarette smoking remains the single leading preventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly 500,000 smoking-attributable deaths, the majority due to neoplasms and cardiovascular disease.  Because smoking is massively over-represented among individuals with many psychiatric diagnoses, including depression, schizophrenia, and other forms of substance dependence (including alcohol), it contributes importantly to excess morbidity and mortality in psychiatric populations.

The University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry has maintained a strong program of research on smoking and nicotine dependence since 1985, when Ovide F. Pomerleau, Ph.D., along with his colleague and collaborator, Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., moved the Nicotine Research Laboratory from the University of Connecticut to Michigan.  The Laboratory had already published major findings on the effects of nicotine on pituitary hormones, including release of beta-endorphin, a finding that has continued to generate new findings on the molecular level on the role of opioid peptides in the reinforcement of smoking.  The move to Michigan led to increased funding and productivity, including

  • demonstration and subsequent validation of nicotine’s euphoric effects
  • systematic studies of smoking and menstrual phase interactions
  • research on psychiatric cofactors for smoking (including adult attention deficit disorder, depression, and eating disorders)
  • concerns about postcessation weight gain as a barrier to quitting
  • effects of long-term nicotine patch use in improving abstinence rates
  • research on the importance of positive and negative early experiences with smoking in driving subsequent smoking history
  • characterization of smoking phenotypes based on patterns of withdrawal symptomatology
  • development of a new model for examining differences in the reinforcement potential of nicotine based on comparisons of never-smokers with positive vs. negative family smoking histories

Most recently, the Laboratory—now part of the Depression Center—has pursued research on the genetics of smoking, with an emphasis on the importance of complex phenotypes in refining our understanding of the strong heritability of smoking and tobacco dependence.  A 2008 report on the association between a neuronal acetylcholine alpha-5 receptor subunit and “pleasurable buzz” during initial smoking confirms the utility of this approach.

With the completion of data collection for the NIDA Genetics Consortium smoking genetics project and the transition of Drs. Ovide and Cindy Pomerleau to active emeritus status in 2009, the physical plant has closed and the Laboratory itself has become “virtual.”  The Pomerleaus, however, continue their research on the genetics of smoking in collaboration with colleagues in statistical genetics at Washington University and measured genetics at the University of North Carolina.  In addition, a book by Dr. Cindy Pomerleau entitled Life After Cigarettes, aimed at women smokers and ex-smokers concerned about postcessation weight gain, was recently published.  Click here for a complete bibliography of publications from the Pomerleau Laboratory.