How nicotine works as an appetite suppressant

Yun Xie

Researchers learning how nicotine works as an appetite suppressant

Smoking has been associated with weight loss for centuries. In the modern world, advertisements and other aspects of popular culture often link slimness with cigarettes. Scientific research generally supports this link as well; researchers have found that smokers have a lower body mass index than nonsmokers, and they have discovered that nicotine decreases the amount of food animals will eat.

While nicotine is considered to be an appetite suppressant, little is known about its actual mechanism of action in the brain. Lead author Yann Mineur from the Yale University School of Medicine and his colleagues have shed some light on this problem. They have found a pathway that governs how nicotine decreases food intake. Their discovery, which appears in a recent issue of Science, could potentially help people stop smoking and lead to new ways of treating obesity.

Mineur found that nicotine and a drug called cytisine both decrease the food intake of mice by up to 50 percent and lower the body fat mass by roughly 15 to 20 percent. Nicotine binds to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and cytisine binds to those nicotinic receptors even more selectively. When a chemical is added that blocks the binding of cytisine to the nicotinic receptors, the mice exhibited less anorexic behavior. This led Mineur and his colleagues to conclude that activation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are essential for decreasing appetite.

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