Blog Post created by dr_hurt on Feb 19, 2010

You may be surprised to know that zebrafish are helping to improve our understanding of nicotine dependence.  Researcher Dr. Stephen Ekker and his group at the Mayo Clinic have developed a model to observe how quickly zebrafish move.  They are using this to measure reactions to stressors, chemicals, and potential medications.  Using this model they have found that the zebrafish larvae will increase their movement when nicotine is added to the water after they are 4 days old, and zebrafish also seem to become ‘sensitized’ to nicotine in that they will exhibit even more movement in response to subsequent exposures to nicotine.

Now here is the interesting part; Dr. Ekker and his colleagues have identified two specific genes in the zebrafish that seem to underlie this reaction.  When these genes are altered the zebrafish response to nicotine is lessened and they move significantly less at both first exposure and subsequent exposures to nicotine.  Because human beings have these same specific genes, Dr. Ekker and his group hope to apply this to research to treat or prevent nicotine dependence by identifying ways to ‘turn-off’ this genetic response.  The potential of this research is in the development of medications to block the genetic response.

While Dr. Ekker’s group is hard at work in this important area, they still make time for humor.  After considering a number of options, they’ve decided to name the two genes that underlie the response to nicotine “Humphrey Bogart” and “Bette Davis” after those two stars whose iconic smoking styles became legendary to movie fans around the world and both died of smoking-caused diseases.

Go to http://www.becomeanex.org/nicotine-addiction.php to learn more about medications to help you quit smoking.


Dr. Richard D. Hurt is an internationally recognized expert on tobacco dependence. A native of Murray, Kentucky, he joined Mayo Clinic in 1976 and is now a Professor of Medicine at its College of Medicine. In 1988, he founded the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and since then its staff has treated over 33,000 patients for tobacco dependence. Send your questions directly to Dr. Hurt at AskTheExpert@becomeanex.org