Brain Stimulation Key To Developing New Anti-Smoking Treatments?

Posted on December 28, 2013

While tobacco use over the past couple of decades has gone down significantly, it’s still one of the country’s most entrenched habits. Finding a way to help smokers break the nicotine habit could save millions of lives. A new study has zeroed in on a small section of the brain that appears to be central in nicotine addiction.

Research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical School used nicotine-addicted mice to learn what triggers withdrawal symptoms and how those symptoms might be managed. The mice were given drinking water tainted with nicotine for six weeks. Then the nicotine was removed from the drinking water. The mice reacted to the removal of nicotine by vigorous shaking, head nods and scratching. Brain examinations detected increased activity of neurons in the interpeduncular nucleus. This area is rich with molecules that are magnets for nicotine, and communicates with other parts of the brain linked to cigarette use.

The researchers next used light to artificially stimulate these neurons and found that the mice exhibited similar shaking and scratching behaviors, with the reaction the same in mice who had been given nicotine and in those who had not. The team next tried calming the neurons and found that this caused the withdrawal behaviors to abate.

The scientists were surprised to learn that the interpeduncular, a narrow group of cells in just one area of the brain, is responsible for withdrawal symptoms. Although the findings are preliminary, it is hoped that they could lead to highly targeted therapies that could make it easier for someone to give up smoking.

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Source material from Addiction Treatment Magazine

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