New research on mice suggest that nicotine’s ability to reduce food intake is linked to a certain subclass of brain nicotinic receptors.
Although previous research has shown that the average weight gain after smoking is less than 10 pounds, the fear of weight gain discourages some people who would otherwise like to quit.
In the study, scientists discovered that cytisine (a nicotine-like drug) specifically activated nicotinic receptors in the hypothalamus, a brain region involved in eating. This triggered the activation of a circuit that reduced food intake and body fat in a mouse model. This result was very specific, since a drug that kept cytisine from binding to these receptors blocked the reduction in food intake.
“These mouse models allow us to explore the mechanisms through which nicotine acts in the brain to reduce food intake,” said senior author Marina Picciotto, Ph.D., of Yale University.
“We found that nicotine reduced eating and body fat through receptors implicated in nicotine aversion and withdrawal rather than reward and reinforcement.”
Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Institute (NIDA), said, “These results indicate that medications that specifically target this pathway could alleviate nicotine withdrawal as well as reduce the risk of overeating during smoking cessation. Although more research is warranted, such a highly selective compound might be more effective than drugs that act on more than one type of nicotinic receptor.”
Through the use of tobacco, nicotine is one of the most heavily used addictive drugs and the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking results in more than 440,000 preventable deaths each year — about 1 in 5 U.S. deaths. Despite these facts, many smokers have great difficulty quitting.
This research was funded by NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, and was published in the June 10 issue of Science.
Source: National Institutes of Health