Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Scientists Discover Nicotine That Could Treat Schizophrenia


A steady stream of nicotine normalises genetic problems in the brain associated with schizophrenia, according to scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder. Nicotine - a chemical found in cigarettes - could be used to treat schizophrenia

They now hope the discovery could lead to new non-addictive, nicotine based treatments for some of the 51 million people worldwide who suffer from the mental illness.

Researcher Jerry Stitzel, of the Institute for Behavioral Genetics, said: “Our study provides compelling biological evidence that a specific genetic variant contributes to risk for schizophrenia, defines the mechanism responsible for the effect and validates that nicotine improves that deficit.

“Basically the nicotine is compensating for a genetically determined impairment.

“No one has ever shown that before.”

The international team of scientists set out to explore the underlying causes of “hypofrontality” – a reduction of activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Hypofrontality is believed to be the root cause of many of the signature brain problems experienced by schizophrenics, including trouble paying attention, remembering things, making decisions and understanding verbal explanations.


Led by Uwe Maskos, a researcher at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, the study found that when mice with schizophrenic characteristics were given nicotine daily, their sluggish brain activity increased within two days.

And within one week it had normalised.

<>Maskos said: “This defines a completely novel strategy for medication development.

“Early stage research is already under way to develop drugs that act on nicotinic receptors.”

Schizophrenia is a severe long-term mental health condition.

Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a type of psychosis, which means the person may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality, according to the NHS.

Previous studies have suggested that people with a variation in a gene called CHRNA5 are more likely to have schizophrenia, but the reason for that association has remained unclear.

People with that gene variation are also more likely to smoke.

Eighty to 90 percent of people with schizophrenia smoke and most are very heavy smokers, a fact that has long led researchers to suspect they are self-medicating.

The team set out to discover if a variation in CHRNA5 caused hypofrontality and does nicotine inerupt this process?

They used mice with the same gene variant and tested them to see if they had the same characteristics as schizophrenics.


Those mice had an aversion to social interaction and were unable to hide a startle.

Stitzel added: “The results validated that the gene variant likely plays a role in schizophrenia by causing hypofrontality.”

Scientists found nicotine reversed this behaviour.

Scientists are now looking at whether the same treatment could be used to help psychiatric conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Bipolar.



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