Smoking is a problem in the United States, taking around 440,000 lives every year. People with mental illnesses are common tobacco users and those with schizophrenia seem to be the most vulnerable.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling disorder of the brain that affects around one percent of people in the United States. Characteristics of the illness include hearing voices, volatile mood swings, and feelings of extreme paranoia.
Tobacco usage in schizophrenics has been rated as high as 90 percent and what's worse: they smoke heavily. This is making scientists wonder whether or not nicotine is having a cognitive effect on these people.
NIcotine affects two brain receptors and one of them, the low affinity class called alpha-7 subunit, is often reduced in people with schizophrenia. Thus, it has been suggested that drugs like nicotine that stimulate this subunit may improve cognitive function and impairments experienced by schizophrenic patients.
Researchers used DMXB-A, a new alpha-7 trigger, in the brain of people with schizophrenia and found signs of improved brain function. This breakthrough offers hope for a possible pharmacologic treatment for brain impairments in schizophrenia.