Schizophrenia is a chronic pathological condition affecting the brain characterized by periods of delusions, hallucinations, distorted thinking, confusion, lack of focus, and concentration problems. It is believed that around 1-2% of the population in the United States suffer from this disease. As of now, there is no cure for Schizophrenia but research is ongoing to find newer ways of treatment to make the quality of life of patients much better.
Among the extensive research that is being done to go into more depth about the etiology and causative factors for this condition, several things have come to light.
Among these is the link between nicotine dependence and schizophrenia. There are various studies that suggest that schizophrenics tend to have high nicotine dependence. They use smoking as a way of self-medicating themselves to get rid of the deficits they have as a result of this disease. They feel that with smoking they can manage some of the deficits they have like lack of motivation and lethargy or problems with focus and concentration.
Research suggests that nicotine has some effect on the functioning of the prefrontal cortex which is the area of the brain that is responsible for decision making and memory. It is this area of the brain that is affected the most in people with schizophrenia. This article goes into detail the effects that nicotine has on the brain in people with schizophrenia and what is the link between this condition and nicotine.
How Nicotine Can Help In Treating Schizophrenia?
Research suggests that there is a significant decrease in activity of the prefrontal cortex in the brain in people with schizophrenia. It is this area of the brain that not only is responsible for problem solving and memory but also keeps the body calm in stressful conditions. A new study published recently in the journal Nature Medicine has made a suggestion that nicotine actually may be able to help people with schizophrenia.
Researchers from University of Colorado along with a team of researchers from Paris set out to study the cause of the decreased activity of the prefrontal cortex and how is nicotine linked to an improvement of the function of this area of brain. They also studied the association of the CHRNA5 gene mutation with schizophrenia. They analyzed various previous studies which substantiated a clear link between the mutation of the CHRNA5 gene, smoking, and schizophrenia.
The researchers observed from analyzing the data that nearly 90% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia were active heavy smokers. They also observed a link between the cigarettes smoked per day to the polymorphic variation of the CHRNA5 gene. The question that was in the mind of all the researchers was whether the symptoms seen in schizophrenics, especially those related to memory, focus, and concentration, were triggered by this gene variation and if so how nicotine can help in stopping this process.
For this, they conducted research on mouse models that had CHRNA5 gene and showed behavioral problems in social interactions. Specifically, they analyzed the mice that had single-nucleotide polymorphism in CHRNA5 gene, which is known to increase the risk of smoking and schizophrenia. They made use of brain imaging technique and observed that the mice clearly had symptoms seen in people with schizophrenia. There was decreased neuronal function as that seen in people with this disease.
The researchers then administered nicotine in the mice and observed for any change in the neuronal activity. They were surprised to see that there was a complete reversal of neuronal activity and a dramatic change in the symptoms. In fact, there was significant improvement in the cognitive function of the mice models. The researchers believed that this was why schizophrenics who smoked tended to find improvement in their condition after smoking.
The researchers are of the opinion that this finding will pave the way for a non-addictive nicotine based treatment for people with schizophrenia. They feel that the study is conclusive enough and substantiates that a specific genetic variant increases the risk of this condition with a clearly defined mechanism and that nicotine has the ability to reverse its effects.
The researchers feel that along with schizophrenia, other psychological disorders linked to decreased prefrontal cortex activity like attention deficit disorder, PTSD, and bipolar disorders can all be helped with non-addictive nicotine based treatments. The researchers believe that it is a huge medical development and may hold the key to future development of a treatment for conditions like schizophrenia.
In conclusion, schizophrenia is a chronic disorder of the brain that is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and cognitive impairment. Studies have suggested that schizophrenia patients have a decreased activity of the prefrontal cortex which is the area of the brain used for memory, decision making, and even keeping the body calm in stressful situations.[2,3]
Studies also show that most of the people with schizophrenia tend to be heavy smokers as they find cigarettes to be of immense help in calming down their symptoms. With this in mind, extensive research was carried out in mice models. The results of the study showed that nicotine actually increased neuronal activity in the prefrontal cortex and improved the cognitive symptoms in mice models.[2,3]
This clearly established that nicotine in fact can help people with Schizophrenia. In fact, it has opened up new channels for a non-addictive nicotine based treatments for people not only with schizophrenia but with other disorders linked to decreased activity of the prefrontal cortex like ADHD, PTSD, and bipolar disorder.[2,3]
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