Clarifying the Genetic Influences on Nicotine Dependence and Quantity of Use in Cigarette Smokers.
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Nicotine dependence and smoking quantity are both robustly associated with the CHRNA5-A3-B4 gene cluster in the 15q25 region, and SNP rs16969968 in particular. The purpose of this paper is to use structural equation modeling techniques (SEM) to disentangle the complex pattern of relationships between rs16969968, nicotine quantity (as measured by the number of cigarettes an individual smokes per day; CPD) and nicotine dependence (as measured by the Fagerstrm Test for Nicotine Dependence; FTND). CPD is an indicator, but also a potential cause, of FTND, complicating the interpretation of associations between these constructs and requires a more detailed investigation than standard GWAS or general linear regression models can provide. FTND items and genotypes were collected in four samples, with a combined sample size of 5,373 respondents. A mega-analysis was conducted using a multiple group SEM approach to test competing hypotheses regarding the relationships between the SNP rs16969968, FTND and CPD. In the best fitting model, the FTND items loaded onto two correlated factors. The first, labeled "maintenance," assesses the motivation to maintain constant levels of nicotine through out the day. The second was labeled "urgency" as its items concern the urgency to restore nicotine levels after abstinence. We focus our attention on the "maintenance" factor, of which CPD was an indicator. The best fitting model included a negative feedback loop between the Maintenance factor and CPD. Accordingly, the motivation to maintain higher levels of nicotine increased the quantity of nicotine consumed, which subsequently decreases the maintenance motivation. The fact that the Maintenance-CPD feedback model fits the data best implies that there are at least two biological pathways that lead from rs16969968 to smoking behaviors. The model is consistent with a supply and demand system, which allows individuals to achieve a homeostatic equilibrium for their nicotine concentration.