Smoking is a heritable behavior and nicotine dependency is complex mechanism supported by both positive and negative reinforcements. We hypothesized that cerebral white matter (WM) may mediate the individual dependency on nicotine integrity because its integrity is altered in smokers and shows dose-related response to nicotine administration. Two vertical and one horizontal pleiotropy pathways that combined individual genetic variations, measure of WM integrity by fractional anisotropy (FA), and nicotine dependence were evaluated in a large epidemiological sample (N=12,264 and 4,654 participants that have genetic, FA measure and nicotine dependence data available for smoking status and cigarettes per day (CPD), respectively) collected UK Biobank. We started by selecting the candidate genetic regions including genetic risk factors associated with smoking from genome-wide association study (GWAS) for causal pathway analysis. Then we identified pleiotropic loci that influence both nicotine dependence and WM integrity from these regions. We tested a horizontal pleiotropy pathway: (A) genetic risk factors associated with smoking were independently affecting both nicotine dependence and WM integrity. We also evaluated two vertical pleiotropy that assumed that individual genetic factors associated with nicotine dependence impacted B) impacted WM integrity which in turn led to higher nicotine dependence vs. C) led to nicotine dependence and resulting white matter alterations. There were 10 and 23 candidate pleiotropic variants identified for smoking status and CPD traits. All these variants exhibited vertical pleiotropy. For smoking status, the genetic effect on smoking status was mediated by FA measures over multiple brain regions. The variants were located in a gene SARDH, which catalyzes the oxidative demethylation of sarcosine that plays a role in reducing tolerance effect on nicotine. Conversely, CPD was a significant mediator in the vertical pleiotropy pathway to FA. The identified variants were located in gene IREB2, that was reported as a susceptibility gene for both neurodegeneration and smoking-induced diseases.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience