Could an Enzyme Suggest New Quit-Smoking Treatments?

Researchers have identified an enzyme associated with how addicted a smoker is to nicotine, and it could suggest new paths to designing medications to help smokers quit.

UW-CTRI Director of Research Dr. Tim Baker and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered for the first time that nicotine dependence is associated in part with an enzyme called FMO3, which metabolizes nicotine in the brain. The genetic variants that affect this enzyme are associated with how soon someone begins smoking after awakening, a key aspect of nicotine dependence.

Baker notes that, “These results are intriguing since they suggest metabolism of nicotine in the brain, and not just metabolism in the liver, may be important to nicotine dependence. Genetic variation in the FMO3 gene appears to affect nicotine persistence and levels in the brain, relatively unrelated to nicotine levels or aversive effects in the periphery. It is possible that slowing brain nicotine metabolism via FMO3 activity could reduce the perceived urgency to smoke, making FMO3 a possible target for drug development.”

Teitelbaum A, Murphy S, Akk G, Baker TB, Germann A, von Weymarn L, Bierut L, Goate A, Kharasch ED, Bloom AJ. Nicotine Dependence is Associated with Functional Variation in FMO3, an Enzyme that Metabolizes Nicotine in the BrainPharmacogenomics Journal. 2017.