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Nicotine Can Normalize Genetically-Induced Brain Impairments: Study

Nicotine intake is never advocated and now a new study reveals that it can normalize genetically-induced brain impairments that are associated with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that leads to abnormal social behavior and inability to differentiate real from unreal. There are several symptoms that characterize schizophrenia such as hallucinations, hearing voices that others do not, unclear or confused thinking, reduced social engagement, and emotional expression, as well as lack of motivation.

The latest study was conducted by a team of researchers brought together by the University of Colorado Boulder and sheds light on the possible reasons behind the ailment and why people who are suffering from the disease are often heavy smokers.

"Our study provides compelling biological evidence that a specific genetic variant contributes to risk for schizophrenia, defines the mechanism responsible for the effect and validates that nicotine improves that deficit," says Jerry Stitzel from Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

The study attempted to ascertain that nicotine was compensating for the genetic impairment.

Findings Of The Study

For the purpose of the study, the researchers experimented on mice that showed schizophrenic symptoms. The mice were exposed to nicotine on a daily basis and it was observed that in two days, the sluggish brain functioning quickened a bit and it normalized within a week.

The researchers tried to identify the root cause of "hypofrontality," which is essentially a decrease of neuronal firing in the brain's prefrontal cortex. It is widely believed that hypofrontality is the primary cause of many typical cognitive problems which are experienced by patients suffering from schizophrenia, such as difficulty remembering things, understanding verbal explanations, decision making, and more.

Previous researches pertaining to the genome's wide association suggests that people who have a gene named CHRNA5 are more prone to suffer from schizophrenia. However, the mechanism of this association is still unclear. It is also said that people carrying this gene variant end up being smokers.

Nearly 80 percent to 90 percent of people who have schizophrenia are susceptible to becoming smokers. Alarmingly, most of those afflicted end up becoming chain smokers.

The four-member team of researchers attempted to seek answers to questions such as whether a variant existing in CHRNA5 gene was a catalyst for hypofrontality. If yes, how? Moreover, whether nicotine was in some bizarre way able to disturb this effect?

Researchers are optimistic that their study will provide insights that can aid in the creation of new drugs, which can in turn be used to treat mental ailments.

The study was published online in the journal Nature Medicine.

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