Laura J. Bierut, M.D. - Director

As a physician scientist, I lead several studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study environmental and genetic contributions to smoking behaviors, addiction and other psychiatric and medical illnesses. I serve on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, which plays a crucial role in advising the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and I serve on the NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Multi-Council Working Group. I have been named as a “Best Doctor” in America. In recognition of my research accomplishments, I was awarded the 2014 Alton Ochsner Award Relating Smoking and Disease. I have been recognized as an accomplished mentor and teacher through multiple awards locally and nationally.

Phone: 314-362-3492


My specific research areas include:
  1. Understanding how genetic and biological factors contribute to smoking behaviors and nicotine addiction.
  2. Examining genetic findings in diverse populations given that most large-scale genetic studies are conducted with participants of European ancestry.
  3. Translating genetic findings to clinically relevant diseases such as lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and outcomes such as smoking cessation.
Recent findings:

Rare coding variation in the α5 neuronal nicotinic receptor subunit gene on chromosome 15 is associated with increased risk for nicotine dependence and higher cigarette consumption in European Americans and African Americans.

Olfson, E., Saccone, N. L., Johnson, E. O., Chen, L. S., Culverhouse, R., Doheny, K., . . . Bierut, L. J. (2015). Rare, low frequency, and common coding variants in CHRNA5 and their contribution to nicotine dependence in European and African Americans. Mol Psych, advance online publication. doi: 10.1038/mp.2015.105

Smokers participating in a genetic study of nicotine dependence received individual genetic risk results for five diseases, including lung cancer. They reported that they appreciated receiving the results and found them worthwhile. Receiving disease-related genetic results was not associated with increased symptoms of depression or anxiety, but was associated with increased attempts to quit smoking.

Hartz, S. M., Olfson, E., Culverhouse, R., Cavazos-Rehg, P., Chen, L. S., DuBois, J., . . . Bierut, L. J. (2015). Return of individual genetic results in a high-risk sample: enthusiasm and positive behavioral change. Genet Med, 17(5), 374-379. doi: 10.1038/gim.2014.110. PMID: 25166427

Genetic factors influence smokers’ ability to quit smoking, as well as their response to smoking cessation medications.

Chen, L. S., Baker, T. B., Piper, M. E., Breslau, N., Cannon, D. S., Doheny, K. F., . . . Bierut, L. J. (2012). Interplay of genetic risk factors (CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4) and cessation treatments in smoking cessation success. Am J Psychiatry, 169(7), 735-742. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.11101545. PMID: 22648373

Chen, L. S., Bloom, A. J., Baker, T. B., Smith, S. S., Piper, M. E., Martinez, M., . . . Bierut, L. (2014). Pharmacotherapy effects on smoking cessation vary with nicotine metabolism gene (CYP2A6). Addiction, 109(1), 128-137. doi: 10.1111/add.12353. PMID: 24033696


Our active projects include:

Nicotine Dependence to Smoking Cessation: Sequencing Common and Rare Variants
The goal of this project is to further identify and characterize genetic findings for nicotine dependence and to understand how these associations contribute to successful smoking cessation.

Genetic Study of Nicotine Dependence in African Americans
This study collected genetic and environmental data on approximately 1800 African American smokers. These data provide an opportunity to identify novel genetic risk factors for nicotine dependence, confirm existing findings, and improve our understanding of potential genetic risk factors for characteristics correlated with nicotine dependence in this underserved population.

Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA)
This multi-site collaborative study supports the research necessary to identify the gene(s) that influence susceptibility to alcoholism.



R01 DA036583
Nicotine Dependence to Smoking Cessation: Sequencing Common and Rare Variants
My Role: Principal Investigator

U10 AA008401
Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism
My Role: Co-Principal Investigator

P30 CA091842
Cancer Center Support Grant
My Role: Co-Leader of Prevention and Control Research Program for Siteman Cancer Center

R01 DA038076
Genetically Informed Smoking Cessation Trial
My Role: Co-investigator

R01 DA039455
Implications of Social Media Content and Engagement for Alcohol and Marijuana Use
My Role: Co-investigator

R01 DA035825
Utilizing Interaction to Identify Novel Genetic Factors for Nicotine Dependence
My Role: Co-investigator

R01 DA038632
Enhancing Discovery of HIV Host Genetics Using Drug Abuse and Other Interactions
My Role: Co-investigator

U24 MH68457
Center for Genomic Studies on Mental Disorders
My Role: Co-investigator