Nicotine is the primary addictive agent in tobacco, and P450 2A6 (gene name: CYP2A6) is the primary catalyst of nicotine metabolism. It was proposed more than 20 years ago that individuals who metabolize nicotine poorly would smoke less, either fewer cigarettes per day or less intensely per cigarette, compared to smokers who metabolize nicotine more efficiently. These poor metabolizers would then be less likely to develop lung cancer due to their lower exposure to the many carcinogens delivered with nicotine in each puff of smoke. Numerous studies have reported that smokers who carry reduced activity or null CYP2A6 alleles do smoke less. Yet only in Asian populations, both Japanese and Chinese, which have a high prevalence of genetic variants, has a link between CYP2A6, smoking dose, and lung cancer been established. In other ethnic groups, it has been challenging to confirm a direct link between P450 2A6-mediated nicotine metabolism and the risk of lung cancer. This challenge is due in part to the difficulty in accurately quantifying smoking dose and accurately predicting or measuring P450 2A6-mediated nicotine metabolism. Biomarkers of nicotine metabolism and smoking exposure, including the ratio of trans-3-hydroxycotine to cotinine, a measure of P450 2A6 activity and plasma cotinine, or urinary total nicotine equivalents (the sum of nicotine and six metabolites) as measures of exposure are useful for addressing this challenge. However, to take full advantage of these biomarkers in the study of ethnic/racial differences in the risk of lung cancer requires the complete characterization of nicotine metabolism across ethnic/racial groups. Variation in metabolism pathways, other than those catalyzed by P450 2A6, can impact biomarkers of both nicotine metabolism and dose. This is clearly important for smokers with low levels of UGT2B10-catalyzed nicotine and cotinine glucuronidation because the UGT2B10 genotype influences plasma cotinine levels. Cotinine is not glucuronidated in 15% of African American smokers (compared to 1% of Whites) due to the prevalence of a UGT2B10 splice variant. This variant contributes significantly to the higher plasma cotinine levels per cigarette in this group and may also influence the accuracy of the 3HCOT to cotinine ratio as a measure of P450 2A6 activity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Sharon E. Murphy: 0000-0001-5391-8104 Funding Funding for this research was provided by the National Cancer Institute (P01 CA138338). Notes The author declares no competing financial interest. Biography Sharon E. Murphy is a professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota. She received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1982.