Nicotinic receptors may be important targets for treatment of multiple addictions

August 15, 2007

For years, scientists have known that some people are biologically more susceptible to drug addiction than others, but they have only been able to speculate why.

In the August 15, 2007 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at the University of Chicago report on a study that may help answer this question.

They discovered that rats most likely to self-administer addictive drugs had a particular receptor in the brain that is more responsive than the same receptor in rats least likely to self-administer addictive drugs.

This receptor, known as the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR), increases excitability within in the brain’s reward centers. In the animals that were more likely to take addictive drugs, the effects of these receptors were much stronger, leading to more profound excitation of the cells and pathways associated with reward.

Stress, and the associated increases in stress hormones, will promote drug-taking behavior regardless of whether an animal is more or less susceptible, say the researchers. They showed that stress also increases the responses of nAChRs within the brain’s reward areas.

"We tested the exploratory behavior of rats in an unfamiliar cage. Rats that explore a new environment for a prolonged period of time were more interested in addictive drugs," says Daniel McGehee, PhD, associate professor and lead researcher on this study. " Those rats also had stronger nAChR responses, meaning their brains responded differently to the drugs. We measured receptor activity in the brain’s reward centers that are known to be activated by addictive drugs."

"This study provides valuable insight into the mechanism of addiction," says McGehee. "It raises the possibility that nicotinic receptors may be important targets for the treatment of multiple addictions, not just nicotine. Unfortunately, blocking these receptors may also interfere with healthy behaviors that depend upon the same brain circuitry. Precisely where these findings will lead drug treatment strategies is unclear, but this work provides insight into the role of nicotinic receptors in the vulnerability to multiple classes of addictive drugs."

Source: University of Chicago Medical Center

Explore further: Compulsive eating shares addictive biochemical mechanism with cocaine, heroin abuse: study

Related Stories

Gene therapy reduces cocaine use in rats

April 16, 2008

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have shown that increasing the brain level of receptors for dopamine, a pleasure-related chemical, can reduce use of cocaine by 75 percent in rats ...

Exploring new drug treatment for addictions

October 27, 2010

South Dakota State University researchers have demonstrated for the first time that a plant-derived compound used to treat nicotine addiction also has significant effects against alcohol addiction.

Scientists find seizure drug reverses cellular effects

May 28, 2008

In the new research, published in the May 28, 2008 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, the scientists found that gabapentin normalizes the action of certain brain cells altered by chronic alcohol abuse in an area of the ...

Biochemical pathway may link addiction, compulsive eating

September 1, 2010

Ezlopitant, a compound known to suppress craving for alcohol in humans, was shown to decrease consumption of sweetened water by rodents in a study by researchers at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, which is affiliated ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.