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Smoking And Schizophrenia Associated With Alterations In Brain Nicotine Signals

Update Date: Sep 18, 2014 10:17 AM EDT

Schizophrenia is linked with increased rates and intensity of tobacco smoking, according to a new study. 

The study found that the level of nicotine receptors in the brain was lower in schizophrenia patients than in a matched healthy group. The study further noted that smoking, which is known to increase the levels of receptors for nicotine in the brain, had this effect in both groups, although was blunted in schizophrenia. 

However, in the schizophrenia group, the smoking-related increase in the level of nicotine receptors was associated with lower levels of social withdrawal, blunted emotional and motivational responses, as well as better cognitive function, the press release added.

"We found a blunted effect of tobacco smoking on the β2*-nAChR system in individuals with schizophrenia. Furthermore, we found that lower receptor availability of β2*-nAChRs in smokers with schizophrenia is associated with worse negative symptoms and worse performance on tests of executive function," said first author and Assistant Professor Dr. Irina Esterlis, in the press release.

The findings may be relevant to high rates of smoking in schizophrenia. 

"The data seem to suggest that smoking might produce some clinical benefits for some patients by increasing the availability of receptor targets for nicotine in the brain," commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "This finding adds to evidence that brain nicotine-related signaling might play a role for new medications developed to treat schizophrenia."

Findings of the study were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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