Recently, genetic association findings for nicotine dependence, smoking behavior, and smoking-related diseases converged to implicate the chromosome 15q25.1 region, which includes the CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4 cholinergic nicotinic receptor subunit genes. In particular, association with the nonsynonymous CHRNA5 SNP rs16969968 and correlates has been replicated in several independent studies. Extensive genotyping of this region has suggested additional statistically distinct signals for nicotine dependence, tagged by rs578776 and rs588765. One goal of the Consortium for the Genetic Analysis of Smoking Phenotypes (CGASP) is to elucidate the associations among these markers and dichotomous smoking quantity (heavy versus light smoking), lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We performed a meta-analysis across 34 datasets of European-ancestry subjects, including 38,617 smokers who were assessed for cigarettes-per-day, 7,700 lung cancer cases and 5,914 lung-cancer-free controls (all smokers), and 2,614 COPD cases and 3,568 COPD-free controls (all smokers). We demonstrate statistically independent associations of rs16969968 and rs588765 with smoking (mutually adjusted p-values<10−35 and <10−8 respectively). Because the risk alleles at these loci are negatively correlated, their association with smoking is stronger in the joint model than when each SNP is analyzed alone. Rs578776 also demonstrates association with smoking after adjustment for rs16969968 (p<10−6). In models adjusting for cigarettes-per-day, we confirm the association between rs16969968 and lung cancer (p<10−20) and observe a nominally significant association with COPD (p = 0.01); the other loci are not significantly associated with either lung cancer or COPD after adjusting for rs16969968. This study provides strong evidence that multiple statistically distinct loci in this region affect smoking behavior. This study is also the first report of association between rs588765 (and correlates) and smoking that achieves genome-wide significance; these SNPs have previously been associated with mRNA levels of CHRNA5 in brain and lung tissue.
Nicotine binds to cholinergic nicotinic receptors, which are composed of a variety of subunits. Genetic studies for smoking behavior and smoking-related diseases have implicated a genomic region that encodes the alpha5, alpha3, and beta4 subunits. We examined genetic data across this region for over 38,000 smokers, a subset of which had been assessed for lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We demonstrate strong evidence that there are at least two statistically independent loci in this region that affect risk for heavy smoking. One of these loci represents a change in the protein structure of the alpha5 subunit. This work is also the first to report strong evidence of association between smoking and a group of genetic variants that are of biological interest because of their links to expression of the alpha5 cholinergic nicotinic receptor subunit gene. These advances in understanding the genetic influences on smoking behavior are important because of the profound public health burdens caused by smoking and nicotine addiction.