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Therapeutic potential of oxytocin for nicotine addiction

Institution: University of Southern California
Investigator(s): Matthew Kirkpatrick,
Award Cycle: 2016 (Cycle 25) Grant #: 25IP-0021 Award: $404,115
Subject Area: Neuroscience of Nicotine Addiction and Treatment
Award Type: High Impact Pilot Award

Initial Award Abstract

Disruption of socioemotional processing (i.e., the cognitive and mood processes that are involved in social behavior) increases vulnerability to smoking maintenance and relapse. Smokers with socioemotional processing disturbances (such as high rejection sensitivity or hostility) are more likely to relapse, and short-term disruption of social emotions (such as diminished feelings of friendliness or heightened anger) during tobacco abstinence is associated with smoking lapse behavior in a laboratory model. Thus, developing a drug that improves socioemotional processing during smoking abstinence may be a beneficial addition to other cessation treatment strategies that do not directly address socioemotional mechanisms (e.g., nicotine replacement, bupropion, varenicline).

In this laboratory-based pilot project, we propose to investigate the effectiveness of a new and unique medication, oxytocin, on socioemotional processing disruptions, cigarette craving, and smoking lapse in abstinent smokers. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone that is involved in social behavior as well as social and drug reward. Intranasal (nose spray) oxytocin is a promising candidate drug for nicotine addiction for several reasons, including: 1) in rats, oxytocin administration reduces symptoms of nicotine withdrawal; 2) in marijuana users, intranasal oxytocin reduces marijuana craving; and 3) in healthy volunteers, intranasal oxytocin produces a range of “prosocial” effects on the socioemotional processes that may underlie smoking behavior, suggesting that the drug may alleviate abstinence-related socioemotional processing disruptions. Here, we hypothesize that intranasal oxytocin will reduce symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and craving, and will increase the ability to resist smoking after a smoking lapse.

This pilot project has the potential to have a high impact on tobacco-related research in at least two ways. First, data from this project will provide critical information on the usefulness of a new and unique drug treatment strategy, and could be leveraged for a future clinical trial investigating the effects of intranasal oxytocin for smoking cessation in humans. Second, examining the effects of increasing oxytocin on smoking outcomes will provide further insight into the complex underlying neurobiology of nicotine addiction. These results could be used to further develop other medications that may impact the naturally occurring oxytocin system.