September 2, 2004

Angela Pinto
(215) 746-7171

Stacia Friedman
(215) 349-5653


New Penn Study Shows Genes May Affect the Rewarding Value of Food after Quitting Smoking

(Philadelphia, PA) - A study by researchers at the Tobacco Use Research Center of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine indicates that the rewarding value of food increases for smokers with a particular genetic background when they quit smoking. This study also indicates that increases in the rewarding value of food predict weight gain in the subsequent 6 months. This research will appear in the August issue of Psychopharmacology.

“This study provides new evidence that the increase in body weight that occurs following quitting is related to increases in food reward and that food reward is partially affected by genetic factors,” said lead author, Caryn Lerman, Ph.D., Associate Director for Cancer Control and Population Science at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor in Penn’s School of Medicine and the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

Dr. Lerman led a research team that examined the rewarding value of food for seventy-one smokers enrolled in a clinical trial of bupropion and placebo for smoking cessation. Participants provided blood samples and received bupropion or placebo plus seven sessions of behavioral group counseling. Smoking status, abstinence symptoms and side effects were recorded weekly, and smoking status and weight were verified at the end of treatment and again at six-month follow-up. Participants also took part in two behavioral laboratory sessions, one before treatment began and one following three weeks of study medication and one week of abstinence. At each session the rewarding value of food was assessed.

Researchers studied both variants of the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2). They found that smokers with the less common DRD2 variant (A1) exhibited significant increases in the rewarding value of food following abstinence from smoking. Higher levels of food reward following quitting smoking predicted significant increases in weight by 6-month follow-up

However, smokers with the less common (A1) variant who were treated with bupropion did not experience significant weight gain at 6 months follow-up. This suggests that bupropion may be an effective treatment for smokers who are more likely to experience increases in food reward and weight gain after quitting.

This research has important implications for the development of more effective treatment strategies that are tailored to individual smokers’ needs. “Since weight gain is a major barrier to quitting smoking, and can increase the chances of smoking relapse, developing tailored treatments to address this issue could have a major positive impact on public health,” said Lerman.

This research was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse and was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center.


The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania was established in 1973 as a center of excellence in cancer research, patient care, education and outreach. Today, the Abramson Cancer Center ranks as one of the nation’s best in cancer care, according to US News and World Report, and is one of the top five in National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding. It is one of only 39 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Home to one of the largest clinical and research programs in the world, the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania has 275 active cancer researchers and 250 Penn physicians involved in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. More information about the Abramson Cancer Center is available at:

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