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Smoking and nicotine receptors

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Winter


Smokers may have a hard time quitting because their brains have significantly more nicotine receptors than those of nonsmokers, according to a study by Yale researchers published in August in the Journal of Neuroscience. The study, funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, is believed to be the first to offer direct evidence in living smokers that the numbers of the most common nicotine brain receptors are higher during early abstinence from smoking.

“Nicotine craving is an important factor associated with relapse,” said Julie K. Staley, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and diagnostic radiology and lead author of the study. “This study paves the way for determining whether medications normalize the number of receptors and why some smokers, such as women and those with neuropsychiatric disorders, have more difficulty quitting smoking.”

Staley said the team used SPECT imaging to see how the nicotine receptors adapt in response to the repeated stimulation of smoking a cigarette.

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