Neuronal mechanisms underlying development of nicotine dependence: Implications for new smoking-cessation treatments
Tobacco smoking causes high rates of mortality and morbidity throughout the world. Despite the availability of smoking-cessation medications, maintenance of long-term abstinence is difficult, and most individuals who attempt to quit smoking relapse. Although tobacco smoke contains many substances, researchers and policymakers agree that nicotine is a major cause of tobacco dependence. Understanding the neural substrates of nicotine dependence is essential for the development of more effective antismoking medications than those currently available. This article focuses on the neural substrates, especially nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, that mediate the reinforcing effects of nicotine and the development of nicotine dependence. Neuroadaptations in the function of the neurotransmitters dopamine, glutamate, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which have been shown to be critically involved in nicotine dependence, are also reviewed. Finally, the article discusses progress in the discovery and development of smoking-cessation medications.