Nicotine Protects Against Parkinson’s?

The addictive component of cigarettes saves dopamine neurons from a Parkinson's-like decline, providing a new avenue for potential treatment.

Aug 3, 2011
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, CHALLIYIL ESWARAMANGALATH VIPIN

Nicotine protects the brain against the loss of dopamine neurons, a characteristic sign of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published this week in The FASEB Journal. By activating the alpha-7 nicotinic receptor, nicotine—which increases dopamine levels in the brain—appears to be able to rescue mouse dopaminergic neurons cultured under conditions that favor their loss. Genetically engineered mouse cells that lacked a specific nicotine receptor (the alpha-7 subtype), however, were unaffected by nicotine treatment.

The findings suggest that new Parkinson's therapies may be developed to target nicotine receptors, FierceBiotech reports. "This study raises the hope for a possible neuroprotective treatment," said co-author Patrick P. Michel of the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière, Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, in Paris, France, in a statement.

But this is not an endorsement for cigarettes, FASEB noted. "If you're a smoker, don't get too excited," Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, said in a statement. "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."