Nicotine found to protect against Parkinson's-like brain damage

August 7, 2006

New research suggests that nicotine treatment protects against the same type of brain damage that occurs in Parkinson's disease. The research was conducted in laboratory animals treated with MPTP, an agent that produces a gradual loss of brain function characteristic of Parkinson's. Experimental animals receiving chronic administration of nicotine over a period of six months had 25 percent less damage from the MPTP treatment than those not receiving nicotine.

This protective effect may explain the lower incidence of Parkinson's disease among smokers. The results also suggest that nicotine may be useful as a potential therapy in the treatment of early-stage Parkinson's patients.

The five-year study was conducted by researchers at The Parkinson's Institute, an independent, non-profit research institute located in Sunnyvale, California. The study results are published in an on-line early release in the Journal of Neurochemistry (doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.2006.04078.x)

Parkinson's disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease caused by the death of small clusters of cells in the midbrain. The gradual loss of these cells results in reduction of a critical transmitter called dopamine, the chemical messenger responsible for normal movement.

"While we would never recommend that people smoke, these results suggest that nicotine promotes the survival of dopamine-producing cells in animals with no overt Parkinson's symptoms," said David A. Schwartz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the federal agency that provided funding for the study. "These findings also have implications for its use in slowing the progression of Parkinson's." Based on these findings, the researchers wondered what compound in cigarette smoke could be causing this effect. "We decided to focus our attention on nicotine because studies have shown that nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain region that is associated with Parkinson's," said Quik.

To test their theory, the researchers treated experimental animals with MPTP, an agent that selectively destroys the dopamine-producing brain cells. Half of the animals also received a low-dose administration of nicotine over a six-month period. During this time, the nicotine dose was gradually increased to a level typically found in cigarette smoke.

The test results showed that animals receiving only the MPTP suffered a 75 percent loss of function in their dopamine-containing brain cells. When the researchers tested the animals that had received both MPTP and nicotine, the damage in the dopamine cells was only 50 percent. "The results suggested that the nicotine treatment had reduced the cell damage by 25 percent," said Quik.

While there is no immediate explanation for this effect, the researchers believe the nicotine may stimulate the release of naturally occurring proteins called growth factors that play a key role in nerve cell growth and repair. "It is also possible that the nicotine may activate the immune system to protect the cells from MPTP-induced damage," said Quik.

According to Quik, Parkinson's disease symptoms only start to develop when 80 to 90 percent of dopamine in striatal nerve terminals is depleted. "This means that a reduction in terminal damage from 80 to 60 percent can mean the difference between having disease symptoms and being symptom-free," said Quik.

While treatments currently available for Parkinson's disease are limited to the day to day relief of symptoms, nicotine may someday be used to reduce or even prevent the progression of the disease. "With current symptomatic therapies, the progress of the disease is not halted and, symptoms become worse and more difficult to control," said Quik. "With neuroprotection, a patient could receive treatment that would halt the disease progress and prevent symptoms from getting worse."

Source: The Parkinson's Institute

Explore further: Smoking's up-side: Nicotine protects the brain from Parkinson's disease

Related Stories

Smoking's up-side: Nicotine protects the brain from Parkinson's disease

August 1, 2011
If you've ever wondered if smoking offered society any benefit, a new research report published in The FASEB Journaloffers a surprising answer. Nicotine protects us from Parkinson's disease, and the discovery of how nicotine ...

Nicotine exploits COPI to foster addiction

December 30, 2013
A study in The Journal of General Physiology helps explain how nicotine exploits the body's cellular machinery to promote addiction. The findings could lead to new therapies to help people quit smoking.

Smoking may protect against Parkinson's disease—but it's more likely to kill you

June 21, 2016
There is a little art gallery in my high street which is run by a lovely lady who unfortunately suffers from Parkinson's disease. Deep inside her brain, nerve cells are dying. This results in a steep decline in the neurotransmitter ...

Caffeine-based compounds show promise against Parkinson's disease

September 30, 2016
A team of researchers from the University of Saskatchewan has developed two caffeine-based chemical compounds that show promise in preventing the ravages of Parkinson's disease.

New target for Parkinson's disease identified

February 28, 2017
Emory investigators have discovered a novel link between a protein called SV2C and Parkinson's disease (PD). Prior work had suggested that the SV2C gene was associated with the curious ability of cigarette smoking to reduce ...

Fishing for new ways to stop Parkinson's, a researcher makes big catches in the gene pool

July 13, 2015
When you hear the phrase "good genes," you probably picture a supermodel like Kate Upton, or a sports superstar like Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper. People, in other words, who may have worked hard for their success, ...

Recommended for you

Young children use physics, not previous rewards, to learn about tools

February 23, 2018
Children as young as seven apply basic laws of physics to problem-solving, rather than learning from what has previously been rewarded, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge.

Study tracks evolutionary transition to destructive cancer

February 23, 2018
Evolution describes how all living forms cope with challenges in their environment, as they struggle to persevere against formidable odds. Mutation and selective pressure—cornerstones of Darwin's theory—are the means ...

The 'loudness' of our thoughts affects how we judge external sounds

February 23, 2018
The "loudness" of our thoughts—or how we imagine saying something—influences how we judge the loudness of real, external sounds, a team of researchers from NYU Shanghai and NYU has found.

Glaucoma study finds brain fights to preserve vision

February 23, 2018
A team of researchers, led by David Calkins, Ph.D., vice chair and director of Research at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, has made a breakthrough discovery in the field of glaucoma showing new hopes for treatments to preserve ...

Researchers use a molecular Trojan horse to deliver chemotherapeutic drug to cancer cells

February 23, 2018
A research team at the University of California, Riverside has discovered a way for chemotherapy drug paclitaxel to target migrating, or circulating, cancer cells, which are responsible for the development of tumor metastases.

Study: Tinder loving cheaters—dating app facilitates infidelity

February 23, 2018
The popular dating app Tinder is all about helping people form new relationships. But for many college-aged people, it's also helping those in relationships cheat on their romantic partners.

0 comments

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.