November 9, 2012 / Firstpost.com / — Inactivation of a specific sub-class of nicotinic receptors may be an effective strategy to help smokers quit without feeling anxious, a new study has found.
According to researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University, these findings could pave way for development of novel therapies to help smokers quit without feeling anxious.
Smokers use cigarettes for many reasons, but many report that they smoke to relieve anxiety, despite the health danger of cigarette smoking.
Researchers are now working to understand the underlying neurochemical pathways that support smoking behaviour.
They observed that low doses of nicotine and a nicotinic receptor blocker had similar effects to reduce anxiety-like behaviour in an animal model.
They found that inactivation of beta2 subunit, a specific sub-class of nicotinic receptors that bind nicotine, appears to reduce anxiety.
This is different from the mechanism that regulates nicotine reward and likely occurs in a separate brain area.
“This work is unique because it suggests that nicotine may be acting through inactivation, rather than activation, of the high affinity nicotinic receptors,” said researcher Darlene Brunzell, assistant professor in the VCU School of Medicine.
“Nicotine acts like a key that unlocks nicotine receptors in the brain. Usually that key opens the receptor, but at other times nicotine is like a key that has gotten broken inside of the lock.
“Our findings suggest that low-dose nicotine may block a specific subtype of receptor from opening that is important for regulating anxiety behaviour,” she said, adding that anxiety is a major reason why people relapse to smoking.