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.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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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,"...

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