Potential New Target for Smoking Cessation Without Weight Gain

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A new study published in Science magazine identifies a brain pathway that could be a target of new treatments for smoking and weight control.

AKINSO: Through the use of tobacco, nicotine is one of the most heavily used addictive drugs and the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the U.S. But despite the well-documented health costs of smoking, many smokers find it very difficult to quit. Dr. Nora Volkow, a Director at the National Institutes of Health adds that some may relapse.

VOLKOW: One of the reasons why women relapse into smoking behavior is because once they stop smoking they gain weight.

AKINSO: Four out of every five people who stop smoking gain weight. Prior research shows that the average weight gain after smoking is less than 10 pounds, but the fear of weight gain can discourage many people who would like to quit. In a recent NIH study researchers used mouse models to explore the mechanisms through which nicotine acts in the brain to reduce food intake. Dr. Volkow explains that a nicotine-like drug specifically activated nicotine receptors in a brain center that controls feeding.

VOLKOW: This finding, indicating that this same drug decreased food intake is therefore very appealing because one of the reasons why its very difficult for women that are smokers to stop smoking is for the fear of gaining weight.

AKINSO: The average person who quits smoking gains between 4 and 10 pounds. It turns out that the average smoker weighs 4-10 pounds less than the average non-smoker-even if they have the same levels of exercise and food intake. Dr. Volkow says these findings may lead to a potential treatment or therapy.

VOLKOW: So the feasibility of having a therapeutic intervention that would help with the urges to smoke at the same time decrease the consumption of food could be very appealing in terms of success for smoking cessation therapies.

AKINSO: The effect of the drug was very specific. Dr. Volkow points out that the drug in this current study is available in Europe where it's used for treatment of smoking cessation.

VOLKOW: The research showed that stimulation of nicotine receptors actually resulted in decrease for intake and loss of weight in animals that have been treated with this particular drug, which is called cytosine.

AKINSO: She adds that although more research is warranted, such a highly-selective compound might be more effective than drugs that act on more than one type of nicotine receptor. For information on this study, visit www.drugabuse.gov. This is Wally Akinso at the NIH, Bethesda, Maryland.