Addicted to smoking from your first puff?
Blame it on a chemical pathway in your brain.
Researchers at the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry have discovered differences in brains that explain why some individuals become addicted to tobacco with their first cigarette while others are initially sickened by the experience.
It comes down to one brain pathway that uses dopamine, a neurotransmitter, to transmit signals related to the rewarding properties of nicotine.
Working with animals, the University of Western Ontario scientists found they were able to manipulate specific dopamine receptors in the brain to control whether nicotine was rewarding or aversive.
The work was published today in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Lead researcher Steven Laviolette of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Schulich said the finding may open the door to drugs to prevent smoking and reverse addiction.
“If we can develop pharmacological agents that target those receptors in these specific areas, we might have a very effective way of controlling or even preventing someone from becoming dependent and addicted to nicotine simply by blocking the rewarding effects or controlling how their brain perceives nicotine as a rewarding stimulant,” Laviolette said.
It might also be possible to block the pain of withdrawal smokers feel when they stop smoking, making it easier for some to quit, he said.
Laviolette said the UWO research may apply to other addictive drugs that use the same neurotransmitter such as alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines and barbiturates.
The next step for the scientists will be to look at chronic nicotine exposure and see if it might be possible to reverse the effects of the addiction.
“After someone becomes addicted there is a whole cascade of events that happen that we haven’t necessarily addressed at this point but we are certainly looking at in future studies, Laviolette said.
Source: John Miner, Sun Media
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