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Nicotine metabolite may improve memory, protect against disease

NEW ORLEANS - Scientists continue to explore the remarkable protective effect of nicotine -- the addictive chemical in tobacco -- on the brain. One recent study has found that one of nicotine's metabolites, cotinine, may improve memory and protect brain cells from diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Another new study shows that nicotine can help improve some of the learning and memory problems associated with hypothyroidism. Such studies suggest that nicotine -- or drugs that mimic nicotine -- may one day prove beneficial in the treatment of neurological disorders.

"These findings don't mean people should smoke," warns neuroscientist Michael Kuhar, PhD, of Emory University. "Any benefits from the nicotine in cigarettes or other tobacco products are far outweighed by the proven harm of using those products. But pure nicotine-like compounds as medications do show promise for treating human disorders."

New studies continue to report on the dangers of smoking. One such study suggests that mothers who smoke during pregnancy may be putting their children at risk of having emotional learning problems that last into adulthood. Another study indicates that when smoking is taken up in adolescence, it also produces long-lasting effects on brain development -- effects that interfere with learning and memory.

The children of women who smoke during pregnancy have been found to be at greater risk for a wide variety of emotional and behavioral disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder. Now, new animal studies from the Yale University School of Medicine demonstrate that the effects of developmental nicotine on emotional learning last into adulthood.

"If we can identify the mechanism for this long-term behavioral change, we may be able to develop new therapies for human emotional disorders that are linked to prenatal nicotine exposure," says Sarah King, PhD.

For their most recent study,
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Contact: Dawn McCoy
dawn@sfn.org
202-462-6688
Society for Neuroscience
11-Nov-2003


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