Throwing the micro switch: MicroRNA may link smoking risk gene to neurobiology of addiction

MicroRNA may link smoking risk gene to neurobiology of addictionPhiladelphia, PA, April 23, 2009 – During the past several years, significant progress has been made in identifying susceptibility genes for nicotine dependence through genetic linkage and association analyses. Although a large number of genes have been associated with tobacco smoking, only a very limited number of genetic variants are considered to be causative. How to find these functional variants and then characterize them remains challenging in the field of human genetics.

In the traditional genetic dogma, DNA codes for RNA and RNA codes for protein. But what about the leftover bits of RNA that do not seem to code for proteins? One type of RNA ‘leftovers’ is the microRNAs. These small pieces of RNA do not code for proteins. Instead, they influence the extent to which other genes are expressed, i.e., the rate or extent of conversion of DNA to RNA. To date, there have been relatively few examples of the direct involvement of microRNAs in psychiatric disorders.

However, a study scheduled for publication in the April 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/biopsychiat), published by Elsevier, has now provided new insights into how variation in the dopamine D1 receptor gene (DRD1) may be linked to the risk for nicotine dependence through microRNA action.

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