Nicotine eyed as Parkinson's treatment

For a moment, forget that nicotine intake can lead to an early grave. There is now some evidence the stimulant responsible for the addictive qualities of cigarettes can actually protect us from Parkinson's disease--a discovery that could open up new routes of treatment for the degenerative disease.

It all has to do with dopamine. Nicotine is so addictive because it increases dopamine levels in the brain, creating euphoric and relaxed feelings. Those who suffer from Parkinson's experience a loss of dopamine-containing cells. Through studies in mice--one group without nicotine receptors and one group with--scientists determined nicotine can rescue dopamine neurons in cultures from normal mice, but not in those from mice without the nicotine receptor. The findings, published in The FASEB Journal, suggest it's possible to develop Parkinson's therapies that target nicotine receptors--alpha-7 in particular.

"If you're a smoker, don't get too excited," Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, said in a release. "Even if smoking protects you from Parkinson's, you might not live long enough to develop the disease because smoking greatly increases the risk for deadly cancers and cardiovascular diseases. But now, we should be able find non-toxic ways to hit the same target."

- read the release