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The effect of nicotine on brain activity & neurocognition in schizophrenia

Institution: University of California, Irvine
Investigator(s): Kirsten Fleming, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2003 (Cycle 12) Grant #: 12KT-0176 Award: $167,964
Subject Area: Nicotine Dependence
Award Type: New Investigator Awards

Initial Award Abstract
Smoking is a major public health problem that disproportionately affects individuals with Schizophrenia. Approximately 90% of schizophrenics smoke cigarettes compared with rates of less than 25% in the general population in the United States. It is likely that there is a biological reason for this increased incidence of nicotine dependence and smoking in schizophrenia, but the specific mechanisms are unknown. This proposed project will be the first study to directly determine how nicotine effects brain activity in schizophrenics who smoke as compared with how nicotine changes brain activity in healthy (no psychiatric diagnosis) smokers. 20 patients with schizophrenia who smoke will be compared with 20 control smokers. A brain imaging technique called flurodeoxyglucose (FDG) Positron Emission Tomography (PET) will be used to measure brain activity. The PET scans will produce colored pictures of the brain that will show what areas of the brain are active. Subjects will undergo PET scans twice—once while wearing a nicotine patch that has no nicotine, and once while wearing a patch that has nicotine. We hypothesize that the nicotine will work differently in the brains of schizophrenics. It is predicted that the nicotine will cause activations in brain areas in the schizophrenics that will improve their thinking and reasoning. In contrast, we expect that the brain activity will decrease in the control subjects and that they will not show an improvement in thinking. It is possible that differences in brain activity caused by nicotine might explain why almost all schizophrenics (90%) smoke. The results from this study might lead to new treatments to help schizophrenics stop smoking.