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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Scientists Find Brain Mechanism Governing Nicotine Addiction

Published February 23, 2011 8:25 AM by Valerie Newitt

A pathway in the brain may lead to a dark destination: vulnerability to tobacco addiction.

According to an advance online issue of the journal Nature, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute in Florida have identified a conduit in the brain that regulates a person's propensity for nicotine addiction. The findings suggest a new target for anti-smoking therapies.

According to a Newswise report, the scientists examined the effects of a part of a receptor (a protein molecule to which specific signaling molecules attach) that responds to nicotine in the brain. They found that animals with a genetic mutation inhibiting this receptor sub-unit consumed far more nicotine than normal.

Nicotine is the major addictive component of tobacco smoke, and nicotine acts in the brain by stimulating proteins called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). These nAChRs are made up of different types of subunits, one of which is the subunit that is the focus of the new study

The scientists are optimistic that their findings may lead to help for smokers who want to kick the habit. Based on the new findings, the Scripps Florida scientists have started a new program of research in collaboration with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania to develop new drugs to boost the sub-unit's signaling and decrease the addictive properties of nicotine.

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