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Researchers Unveil the Reason Behind Women’s Increased Vulnerability to Cigarette Addiction

Researchers Unveil the Reason Behind Women's Increased Vulnerability to Cigarette Addiction
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A recently identified brain circuit could offer insight into why women tend to develop nicotine dependence faster than men. Despite smoking rates being slightly higher among men in the United States, smoking remains a significant cause of preventable illness and death, claiming over 480,000 lives annually, as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although fewer women smoke on average, research indicates that they are more prone to nicotine addiction and tend to become addicted more rapidly even with lower levels of nicotine exposure.

Sally Pauss, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington, who spearheaded the research project under the guidance of associate professor Terry Hinds Jr., stated that studies reveal women have a greater likelihood of developing nicotine addiction compared to men and encounter more challenges in quitting.

Pauss emphasized that their objective is to comprehend the factors contributing to women’s heightened vulnerability to nicotine use disorder in order to address the gender gap in treating nicotine addiction.

The Influence of Estrogen

Researchers delved into a vast collection of genes influenced by estrogen, particularly those active in the brain, to explore the distinction between men and women.

They discovered that genes encoding olfactomedins, a group of proteins vital in nervous system development, were activated by estrogen.

Further investigations involving human uterine cells and rats revealed a feedback loop: estrogen triggers olfactomedin activity, which is then inhibited by nicotine in brain regions associated with reward and addiction. Essentially, this olfactomedin mechanism may drive individuals to seek nicotine to stimulate these reward circuits.

Facilitating Smoking Cessation for Women

“If we can validate that estrogen plays a role in driving the desire for nicotine and its consumption through olfactomedins, we could develop medications targeting these altered pathways,” Pauss explained.

“These medications could potentially aid women in quitting nicotine more effectively.”

The researchers noted that this insight could be especially beneficial for individuals using estrogen-containing medications like oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, as they might be at a heightened risk of developing nicotine addiction.

The findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology on March 25 in San Antonio.

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