Involvement of Glutamatergic and GABAergic Systems in Nicotine Dependence: Implications for Novel Pharmacotherapies for Smoking Cessation

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Tobacco smoking continues to be a major global health hazard despite significant public awareness of its harmful consequences. Although several treatment options are currently available for smoking cessation, these medications are effective in only a small subset of smokers, and relapse rates continue to be high. Therefore, a better understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms that mediate tobacco dependence is essential for the development of effective smoking cessation medications. Nicotine is the primary psychoactive component of tobacco that drives the harmful tobacco smoking habit. Nicotine binds to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the brain, resulting in the release of a wide range of neurotransmitters, including glutamate and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This review article focuses on the role of the excitatory glutamate system and inhibitory GABA system in nicotine dependence. Accumulating evidence suggests that blockade of glutamatergic transmission or facilitation of GABAergic transmission attenuates the positive reinforcing and incentive motivational aspects of nicotine, inhibits the reward-enhancing and conditioned rewarding effects of nicotine, and blocks nicotine-seeking behavior. Chronic nicotine exposure produced long-term neuroadaptations that contribute to nicotine withdrawal, but the role of GABA and glutamate transmission in nicotine withdrawal is less understood. Overall, the findings presented in this review provide strong converging evidence for the potential effectiveness of glutamatergic and GABAergic medications in nicotine dependence and potentially nicotine withdrawal.