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The causal role of smoking in anxiety and depression: a Mendelian randomization analysis of the HUNT study

  • J. H. Bjørngaard (a1) (a2), D. Gunnell (a3), M. B. Elvestad (a4), G. Davey Smith (a3) (a5), F. Skorpen (a4), H. Krokan (a4), L. Vatten (a1) and P. Romundstad (a1)...



Cigarette smoking is strongly associated with mental illness but the causal direction of the association is uncertain. We investigated the causal relationship between smoking and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the Norwegian HUNT study using the rs1051730 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) variant located in the nicotine acetylcholine receptor gene cluster on chromosome 15 as an instrumental variable for smoking phenotypes. Among smokers, this SNP is robustly associated with smoking quantity and nicotine dependence.


In total, 53 601 participants were genotyped for the rs1051730 SNP and provided information on smoking habits and symptoms of anxiety and depression using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).


Self-reported smoking was positively associated with the prevalence of both anxiety and depression, and the measured polymorphism was positively associated with being a current smoker and the number of cigarettes smoked in current smokers. In the sample as a whole, risk of anxiety increased with each affected T allele [odds ratio (OR) 1.06, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.02–1.09, p = 0.002] but there was no association with depression (p = 0.31). However, we found no clear association of the polymorphism with either anxiety (OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.97–1.09, p = 0.34) or depression (OR 1.02, 95% CI 0.95–1.09, p = 0.62) among smokers.


As there was no association of the smoking-related rs1051730 SNP with anxiety and depression among smokers, the results suggest that smoking is not a cause of anxiety and depression.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: J. H. Bjørngaard, M.A., Ph.D., Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 7491 Trondheim, Norway. (Email:


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