CYP2A6 is the detox enzyme responsible for eliminating nicotine. There is a link between this enzyme’s activity, smoking, and lung cancer risk. Read on to find more about this enzyme, how having a particular gene variant may affect you, and the factors that increase or decrease its activity.
What is CYP2A6?
CYP2A6 enzyme is one of the cytochrome P450 monooxygenases (CYPs). These are enzymes that eliminate most of the drugs and toxins from the human body .
This enzyme metabolizes:
- Nicotine, the main active component in cigarette smoke . About 90% of nicotine is processed by this enzyme .
- Hormones and internal molecules, such as retinoic acid, testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone. But the contribution of CYP2A6 activity is minor in their overall pathways .
- Coumarin [4, 5], found in plants.
- Nitrosamines and aflatoxin B1 .
- Letrozole, an aromatase inhibitor used to treat breast cancer .
This enzyme is mainly found in the liver. It accounts for about 10% of the total liver CYP enzyme content .
At much lower levels, it can be found in some other tissues, especially the mucous lining of the nose .
Some people completely lack the functional CYP2A6 gene and enzyme .
CYP2A6 The Bad
There is a clear link between CYP2A6 enzyme activity, smoking behavior, and lung cancer risk .
This enzyme can activate several cancer-causing agents found in tobacco smoke and diet, such as nitrosamines (e.g. NNK) and aflatoxins .
Several studies show that gene variants that decrease this enzyme’s activity also decrease the risk of lung cancer .
The activity of this enzyme can contribute to liver damage. A study showed that being a CYP2A6 poor metabolizer type (having lower enzyme activity) protects against liver cirrhosis .
CYP2A6 Gene Polymorphism
This gene has around 40 variants .
The activity of this enzyme can vary up to 12-fold, based on the particular gene variant .
Slow CYP2A6 metabolism (low activity) is associated with lower cigarette consumption, lower dependence, and higher cessation rates in adults (421 subjects) .
However, slow metabolism was also associated with more cigarettes smoked per day and a greater dependence in adolescents (296 smokers) [10, 9].
Some people completely lack this gene . They are labeled as CYP2A6*4.
CYP2A6*4 is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer (242 subjects) .
rs1801272 A is associated with a decreased lung cancer risk (squamous cell carcinoma) (4221 subjects) .
This variant is also associated with lower cigarette dependence (4221 subjects) .