Discovering Addiction Genes Using the Candidate Gene Approach

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In Pedigree Investigator, you can follow a family with nicotine addiction and identify a gene that may increase their susceptibility. Below, you can learn more about the candidate gene approach used in that activity.

Searching among all of our 21,000 or so genes for a few that are involved in a complex disease can be quite costly and time consuming. That is why researchers often use what they and others know about a disease to narrow their focus down to a smaller number of "candidate genes."

Where Do We Begin?

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A smart way to start narrowing down the number of candidate genes is by looking at what we already know. As part of the scientific process, researchers routinely publish their discoveries in journals. Other researchers read the journal articles and then build on these past discoveries.

Putting Our Heads Together

Researchers often work together, or collaborate, to tackle a problem from several angles at once. This allows researchers to pool their areas of expertise to everyone's benefit.

In order to determine whether a gene is associated with nicotine addiction, a protein biochemist might need to collaborate with both a clinician and a DNA analyst.

Protein biochemist - Studies protein structure and function, and how proteins interact with one another. Provides a basic understanding of the problem.

Clinician - Treats patients for nicotine addiction. Provides access to patients and collects DNA samples from nicotine addicts and their family members.

DNA Analyst - Can rapidly analyze the DNA sequence from hundreds of blood samples. Analyzes and compares the DNA sequences of nicotine addicts and non-addicts.


Photos courtesy Centers for Disease Control.

How Genes Affect Behavior

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How can a difference in someone's gene sequence cause a behavioral change, like being more susceptible to nicotine addiction?

Why isn't it 100%?

After collecting DNA from several people with nicotine addiction and ADHD, you analyze their CHRNA4 gene sequences to determine which alleles they carry.

Upon comparing addicts with ADHD to non-addicts and addicts without ADHD, you determine that allele 2 seems to be significantly more common in addicts with ADHD.

However, not everyone who has allele 2 is addicted, and not everyone who is addicted has allele 2. Clearly, there is more to this story than this one gene. Such is the nature of complex diseases. Nicotine addiction and ADHD are complex diseases affected by many genes and environmental factors.


Future Directions

CHRNA4 is just one gene that may play a role in addiction. The next step is to identify other addiction genes and determine how they work together to produce this complex disease.

Understanding these genes' roles and how they interact can help lead to more effective treatments for nicotine addiction.

APA format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. (2013, August 30) Discovering Addiction Genes Using the Candidate Gene Approach. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from

CSE format:

Discovering Addiction Genes Using the Candidate Gene Approach [Internet]. Salt Lake City (UT): Genetic Science Learning Center; 2013 [cited 2024 May 14] Available from

Chicago format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. "Discovering Addiction Genes Using the Candidate Gene Approach." Learn.Genetics. August 30, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2024.