Brain Area Responsible for Anxiety With Nicotine Withdrawal Identified

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Scientists have identified a circuit in the brain that increases anxiety during nicotine withdrawal, a development they say may help smokers who are trying to quit the habit avoid relapse.

Andrew Tapper, PhD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and colleagues found that an area of the brain known as the interpeduncular nucleus, which is linked to anxiety during withdrawal, is distinct from another region where physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, such as nausea and insomnia, derive.

Anxiety often leads smokers to give up their attempt to quit, but the researchers say that the interpeduncular nucleus provides a new target for easing affective symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, they wrote in the journal Nature Communications.

They also found that neurons from two other brain regions meet at the interpeduncular nucleus, which ends up stimulating anxiety-provoking neurons.

“We could alleviate anxiety during nicotine withdrawal by either preventing corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) synthesis in the ventral tegmental area, or by silencing the medial habenula inputs into the interpeduncular nucleus,” Tapper said in a statement.

He added that CEF receptors have been linked to anxiety and depression, so the study’s findings could have implications for anxiety disorders in general.

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Brain Area Responsible for Anxiety With Nicotine Withdrawal Identified

In a promising breakthrough for smokers who are trying to quit, neuroscientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and The Scripps Research Institute have identified circuitry in the brain responsible for the increased anxiety commonly experienced during withdrawal from nicotine addiction.

"We identified a novel circuit in the brain that becomes active during nicotine withdrawal, specifically increasing anxiety," said principal investigator Andrew Tapper, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry. "Increased anxiety is a prominent nicotine withdrawal symptom that contributes to relapse in smokers attempting to quit."

The study yielded several discoveries about interconnected brain mechanisms that induce anxiety during nicotine withdrawal — and possible ways to derail these mechanisms in order to treat, or even prevent the especially troublesome symptom.

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