Scientists find possible pathway out of nicotine addiction

Scientists have given new meaning to the question, "what's my motivation?"--especially when it comes to why smokers become addicted. Researchers at the Florida campus of the Scripps Research Institute, writing in the journal Nature, have found "a new framework for understanding the motivational drives in nicotine consumption."

What they found was a part of a receptor that responds to nicotine in the brain. Not only that, but lab animals with a genetic mutation that inhibits the receptor subunit are more addicted to nicotine. This leads researchers to believe that if this subunit's expression can be boosted, the brain's addiction to nicotine could be reduced.

"These findings also point to a promising target for the development of potential anti-smoking therapies," Scripps Research Associate Professor Paul Kenny said in a news release.

Nicotine acts in the brain by stimulating proteins called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which are made up of different types of subunits. One of them is the α5 subunit, which was the focus of the new study. The scientists say they are optimistic that their findings may one day lead to help for smokers who want to kick the habit. The Scripps Florida scientists are now collaborating with scientists at the University of Pennsylvania to develop new drugs that could boost α5 nAChR signaling and decrease the addictive properties of nicotine.

- read the Scripps release