Smoking and Schizophrenia Linked with Brain Nicotine Signals

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Sep 18, 2014

A new research has hinted that the relationship between schizophrenia and smoking, in part, can be based on the patient’s effort to use nicotine to self-medicate symptoms. It can also be based upon the damage of knowledge associated with the disease.

Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine have associated schizophrenia with increased rates and intensity of tobacco smoking. Schizophrenic patients were found to have lower levels of nicotine receptors in their brains as compared to their healthy counterparts.

The known effect of smoking in increasing the levels of nicotine receptors in the brain was noticed in both the groups, but was dulled in schizophrenics. This smoking-related increase in the level of nicotine receptors in schizophrenics was linked to lower levels of social withdrawal, blunted emotional and motivational responses, as well as better cognitive function.


Nicotine receptors in the brain are stimulated by nicotine when it mimics the actions of acetylcholine, which is a natural chemical messenger.

During the study, a single photon emission computed tomography was used to quantify the availability of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in smoking and non-smoking volunteers with schizophrenia and those without it.

"We found a blunted effect of tobacco smoking on the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors system in individuals with schizophrenia," said first author and assistant Professor Dr Irina Esterlis.

"Furthermore, we found that lower receptor availability of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in smokers with schizophrenia is associated with worse negative symptoms and worse performance on tests of executive function," Esterlis said.

These findings may be relevant to the high rates of smoking in schizophrenia, researchers said.

"The data seem to suggest that smoking might produce some clinical benefits for some patients by increasing the availability of receptor targets for nicotine in the brain," said Dr John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, the journal in which the study is published.

"This finding adds to evidence that brain nicotine-related signalling might play a role for new medications developed to treat schizophrenia," he said.

"These findings suggest that nicotinic acetylcholine receptors may be a target for developing treatments for negative symptoms and cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia, for which no effective treatments exist," added Esterlis.

Image Courtesy: Getty

Source: Financial Express

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