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Unexpected Genetic Vulnerability to Menthol Cigarette Use

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

According to a study published in PLOS genetics, a group of international researchers supported by U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Health have found a genetic variant of MRGPRX4 gene in people of African descent that increases a smoker’s preference for cigarettes containing menthol. The FDA determined that

  • nearly 20 million people of African American origin in the United States smoke menthol cigarette.
  • Research has shown that 86 percent of African-American smokers use menthol cigarettes in comparison to the smokers of European descent which are less than 30 percent.

In this study, the researcher Andrew Griffith uncovered clues as to how menthol may reduce the irritation and harshness of smoking cigarettes. The results can help public health agencies to develop strategies to lower the rates of harmful cigarette smoking among groups particularly vulnerable.

At the same time, researchers at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center led by Dennis Drayna, conducted a detail genetic analyses on 13000 adults using data from a multiethnic, population-based group of smokers from the Dallas Heart Study and from an African-American group of smokers from the Dallas Biobank.

The researchers report that

  • 5 to 8 percent of the African-American study participants had the gene variant.
  • None of the participants of European, Asian, or Native American descent had the variant.
  • Recognizing the genetic variant, pointed the researchers in an unanticipated direction, leading them to offer
  • the first characterization of this naturally-occurring MRGPRX4 variant in humans.
  • The gene codes for a sensor/receptor is believed to be involved in detecting and responding to irritants from the environment in the lungs and airways.

Drayna further stated that while the gene variant can’t explain all of the increased use of menthol cigarettes by African-Americans, the results show that this variant is a theoretically vital factor that motivates the predilection for menthol cigarettes in the population.

Source

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/researchers-find-genetic-vulnerability-menthol-cigarette-use

 

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