Nicotine Dependency Puts the Brakes on Parkinson's Development

TAU researchers explain why smoking slows down Parkinson's

Over a decade ago, scientists discovered that smokers were 60 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, and that this protective effect continued for 25 years even after the person stopped smoking. Now a team of Israeli researchers, including scientists at Tel Aviv University, have uncovered the genetic mechanism that protects smokers from the disease.

To understand this surprising connection, the researchers conducted genetic testing on blood samples from 677 Parkinson's patients, 438 of whom were never smokers and 239 who currently are or had been smokers. Initial results indicated a link between nicotine dependence and a protective mechanism against the disease. Studying a cluster of genes known as CHRNB5, CHRNB4 and CHRNB3, the researchers discovered that as these genes became more dependent on nicotine, they also held back the development of Parkinson's.

This discovery contributes to the understanding of the mechanism in nicotine that protects against damage to the brain chemical dopamine, which is linked to the disease. While there is no doubt that smoking is bad for your health, and researchers are not advocating smoking as a method of prevention, the finding allows for the identification of new approaches for Parkinson's therapies, such as medications that mimic the chemical impact of nicotine without the additional health risks.

This research is a collaboration between TAU, Hadassah University Hospital, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Beilinson Hospital and research institutes in Milan, Italy.

For the full story on the link between nicotine and Parkinson's, see the Ha'aretz story: "Israeli discovery explains why smoking slows down development of Parkinson's"

For more neuroscience news from Tel Aviv University, click here.

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