The Effects of Cigarette Use on DNA

BOSTON — Researchers from the Harvard Medical School - affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) along with several other institutions have found evidence that smoking leaves a long-term signature on DNA. Findings from the study will be published in the October issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics, an American Heart Association journal.

IFAR’s Roby Joehanes Ph.D. and first author on the study explains, “Our study has found compelling evidence that smoking has a long-lasting impact on our molecular machinery, an impact that can last more than 30 years. The encouraging news is that once you stop smoking, the majority of DNA methylation signals return to never smoker levels after five years, which means your body is trying to heal itself of the harmful impacts of tobacco smoking.”

Stephanie J. London, M.D., Dr.P.H. last author and deputy chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health says, “These results are important because methylation, as one of the mechanisms of the regulation of gene expression, affects what genes are turned on, which has implications for the development of smoking-related diseases. Equally important is our finding that even after someone stops smoking, we still see the effects of smoking on their DNA.”

After conducting an analysis of genome-wide DNA, researchers concluded that cigarette smoking has a broad impact on DNA methylation which may persist even several years after a person has quit smoking. In addition, the discovery of these DNA methylation sites could lead to the development of new treatments for smoking related illnesses. Despite the drastic decline of smoking in recent years (In the US today, there are more former smokers than current smokers) smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death around the world.

Infrastructure for the CHARGE Consortium is provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grant R01HL105756. This work was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH; National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Additional Sources of funding can be found in the manuscript.

About the Institute for Aging Research
Scientists at the Institute for Aging Research seek to transform the human experience of aging by conducting research that will ensure a life of health, dignity and productivity into advanced age. The Institute carries out rigorous studies that discover the mechanisms of age-related disease and disability; lead to the prevention, treatment and cure of disease; advance the standard of care for older people; and inform public decision-making. The Aging Brain Center within IFAR studies cognitive aging and conditions affecting brain health.

About Hebrew SeniorLife
Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a national senior services leader uniquely dedicated to rethinking, researching and redefining the possibilities of aging. Based in Boston, the non-profit, non-sectarian organization has provided communities and health care for seniors, research into aging, and education for geriatric care providers since 1903. For more information about Hebrew SeniorLife, visit, follow us on Twitter @H_SeniorLife, like us on Facebook or read our blog.