Twins Offer Key to Genetics of Smoking

By Raloff, Janet | Science News, September 19, 1992 | Go to article overview

Twins Offer Key to Genetics of Smoking


Raloff, Janet, Science News


Genes may help explain why some youths who experiment with cigarettes quickly develop a lifelong addiction while others can abstain from smoking or drop the habit easily. However, few studies have gauged the magnitude of such genetic effects or isolated where they may function in initiating, maintaining, or abandoning the cigarette habit. A new study now suggests that genes exert a moderate influence on all aspects of smoking--even on how much one smokes.

From 1967 to 1969, and again from 1983 to 1985, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md., surveyed male twins--both identical and fraternal pairs--born between 1917 and 1927. The survey included questions on such heart-disease risks as smoking.

Because these men had all served in the military during World War II -- an environment in which cigarette smoking was common, even encouraged -- this proved a group "maximally exposed to smoke," notes Dorit Carmelli of SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., who led the new study. That's important, she says, because people must have the opportunity to smoke before any genetic influence can appear.

That pairs of identical twins (who have nearly identical genes) proved significantly more likely than pairs of fraternal twins to share the same smoking history strongly indicates a genetic role in cigarette addiction, her team reports in the Sept. 17 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.

Data on smoking intensity among these 4,775 pairs of twins proved "surprising -- and encouraging from the potential for intervention," Carmelli says. …

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