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Study Examines Sensation Seeking Behavior, Addiction and Smoking Cessation

The tendency to become addicted to nicotine and other drugs involves an interplay of genetics and environmental factors. In a unique study looking at the chemistry underlying the propensity to develop nicotine craving, scientists are gaining insight into predicting individual addiction to nicotine, forecasting nicotine tumorigenesis, and developing individualized treatments for this disorder.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) have received an $820,000 “Team Science Program Grant” from the Florida Department of Health and the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program to study nicotine addiction. Looking at genetic and environmental factors, FAU researchers are working to understand the chemistry that underlies nicotine addiction, help to predict an individuals’ vulnerability to nicotine addiction and ultimately develop individualized treatments for this disorder.

“This is a highly competitive grant and receiving this award is an important accomplishment for Florida Atlantic University,” said Michael Friedland, M.D., dean of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science. “There is clearly a need for more systematic research of nicotine and other addictions at levels of analysis including genetic, biological, behavioral and social.”

The team approach to this study is composed of three areas of research: (1) understanding the environmental and neurobiological mechanisms that are favorable for the expression or inhibition of pre-existing vulnerability to nicotine, an important step for long-term success in nicotine abstinence; (2) examining the adverse effects of nicotine on the immune system to help forecast nicotine tumorigenesis with the objective of predicting adverse outcomes before a full pathology is observed, and potentially cutting down health costs related to full blown disease; and (3) studying potential therapeutic targets that can reverse the phenotypic predisposition to nicotine’s adverse effects in the immune system, providing a rich avenue for developing customized intervention strategies.

The research team led by Dr. Keith Brew, Distinguished Professor and Schmidt Senior Fellow, Dr. Ceylan Isgor, Assistant Professor, and Dr. Vijaya Iragavarapu, Associate Professor, in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science will investigate the novelty-seeking phenotype (vulnerability to psychostimulants) of a rodent model, selected as high or low level novelty-seekers. These researchers will examine the responses of certain aspects in the brain and immune system chemistry to combinations of nicotine and different types of stress that generate vulnerability to nicotine addiction. Using this model, they will be able obtain information about the normally-occurring individual differences in propensity to developing nicotine craving in a human population. Novelty-seeking is an inherited trait which is characterized by a tendency toward excitement in response to new experiences, engagement in sensation-seeking, impulsive and risk-taking behavior and sensitivity to reward.

“An individual’s tendency to become addicted to drugs, including nicotine, is determined by an interplay of genetic and environmental factors,” said Brew. “Novelty-seeking and sensation-seeking are concepts that are very useful in predicting human risk-taking behavior. Sensation-seeking behavior has a strong genetic element in humans that is mirrored in the rodent model of the novelty-seeking phenotype.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tobacco use kills nearly half a million Americans each year, with one in every six U.S. deaths the result of smoking. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases and compromising smokers’ health in general. Nicotine, a component of tobacco, is the primary reason that tobacco is addictive, although cigarette smoke contains many other dangerous chemicals, including tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, nitrosamines and others. The American Heart Association estimates that in the U.S., approximately 25.9 million men (23.9 percent) and 20.7 million women (18.1 percent) are smokers.

“In order to quit smoking successfully for the long term, it is vital to understand the nature of nicotine addition,” said Isgor. “Even though individuals can initiate smoking cessation, there is as high as 70% relapse rate. This is why studying nicotine relapse is a top priority in tobacco research.”

The Florida Biomedical Research Programs administered by the Florida Department of Health, Office of Public Health Research, includes two grant-funding programs, the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program and the Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program. The King Program, named for Senator James King’s (R-Jacksonville) parents who both died as a result of smoking, funds research into the cure, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tobacco-related diseases.

Florida Atlantic University opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University serves more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students on seven campuses strategically located along 150 miles of Florida's southeastern coastline. Building on its rich tradition as a teaching university, with a world-class faculty, FAU hosts ten colleges: College of Architecture, Urban & Public Affairs, Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Biomedical Science, the Barry Kaye College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Engineering & Computer Science, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Graduate College, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

Gisele Galoustian | newswise
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