Nicotine protects the brain from Parkinson’s disease

If you’ve ever wondered if smoking offered society any benefit, a new research report published in The FASEB Journal ( offers a surprising answer. Nicotine protects us from Parkinson’s disease, and the discovery of how nicotine does this may lead to entirely new types of treatments for the disease.

“This study raises the hope for a possible neuroprotective treatment of patients at an early step of the disease or even before at a stage where the disease has not been diagnosed according to motor criteria,” said Patrick P. Michel, co-author of the study from the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière, Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, in Paris, France.

To make this discovery, scientists used mice genetically engineered without a specific nicotine receptor (the alpha-7 subtype) and mice with a functional receptor. Using tissue from mouse embryos, researchers prepared brain cultures using conditions that favor the slowly progressing loss of dopamine neurons, a hallmark of the disease. The scientists found that nicotine had the potential to rescue dopamine neurons in cultures from normal mice, but not in cultures from mice without the nicotine receptor. These findings suggest that it may be feasible to develop novel therapies for Parkinson’s disease that target nicotine receptors, particularly the alpha-7 nicotine receptor.

“If you’re a smoker, don’t get too excited,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Even if smoking protects you from Parkinson’s, you might not live long enough to develop the disease because smoking greatly increases the risk for deadly cancers and cardiovascular diseases. But now, we should be able find non-toxic ways to hit the same target.”

By Cody Mooneyhan
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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  1. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

    Although I am sure that the researchers realize this, I will point out to your readers that nicotine is not the only candidate for the “good guy” role in tobacco, and in fact there is another substance therein that looks like it is turning out to play the role of “super hero”.

    The other “minor alkaloids” also share a love for the “nicotine receptors” and compete against the overabundant nicotine. The other, minor, alkaloids share a medical trait that apparently nicotine does not have, that of MAO inhibitor (but safe ones, that self-limit and so do not cause the food and drug interaction worries that other MAOIs do).

    It turns out that one, “anatabine”, is not only an MAOI, but also a superb anti-inflammatory (as researchers developing the new supplement Anatabloc found out). It appears to be a first of kind: a strong anti-inflammatory that is side effect free in most people and can be taken continuously to not only relieve inflammatory problems but to prevent them in the first place.

    There are high hopes that this combination of actions in anatabine will be effective in many against such maladies as Parkinson’s and M.S., and now there are clinical trials of it underway for assessment in treating Alzheimer’s.

    In the mean time it has already helped tens of thousands with other inflammatory problems like arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s and other auto-immune disorders. It appears highly likely that, while it is only 3% of the alkaloid makeup in tobacco, it may be responsible for most of the good tobacco has to offer, and none of the bad.

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