Smokers may be predisposed to their habit because of the molecular make-up of their brain, research suggests.
The finding comes from a new brain map that helps explain why certain behaviors are linked with particular areas of the brain. Experts analyzed the molecules produced at connection points between nerve cells – called synapses – which are key to sending messages around the brain.
“The information that Professor Grant and his team have generated provides an excellent opportunity for researchers to gain further insight into how the brain works.”
These molecules play a critical role in controlling different aspects of behavior and understanding them can shed light on the functions of a particular region of the brain. The team, based at the University of Edinburgh, found the pattern of molecules varied between areas of the brain. These differences correspond to functions – such as language, emotion, and memory.
Researchers say analyzing the molecular make-up of synapses in this way provides a snapshot of the genes that are expressed in different areas of the brain. Using their new map, they were able to investigate where genes that have been linked to smoking exert their influences on the brain. The ease with which smokers can quit their habit may also be linked to the brain’s molecular make-up, the authors say.
The study, based on post-mortem brain tissue samples from healthy people held in the Medical Research Council’s Edinburgh Brain Bank and published in Nature Neuroscience, pinpointed the same region that has previously been identified in brain imaging studies.
The team says this confirms that their map can bridge the gap between genetic studies and findings from brain imaging to help to explain how the brain works. They say the new map provides a powerful tool for investigating how diseases affect different parts of the brain.
Professor Seth Grant, of the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, who led the study said: “This is an important step toward understanding the molecular basis of human thought.”
Dr. Kate Adcock, MRC head of neurosciences and mental health, said: “The information that Professor Grant and his team has generated provides an excellent opportunity for researchers to gain further insight into how the brain works.”
Brian P. McDonough, MD, FAAFPPeer
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