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Neuroscience of Nicotine Addiction and Treatment

To advance innovative pre-clinical and human research on the basic neuroscience of nicotine addiction and treatment.

Over 30 million people remain addicted to tobacco products generally and nicotine in particular. Understanding, alleviating, and treating nicotine addiction remains critical to tobacco control efforts. While advances in understanding how nicotine affects the brain and subsequently leads to dependence have been made, the key mechanisms and pathways that can blunt the addictive properties of nicotine are still to be fully identified and understood. With the emergence of new nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes and ‘heat-not-burn’ tobacco products and their rapid uptake among adolescents and young adults, key research is needed to improve our understanding of the long term effect of nicotine, flavorings, and other constituents in such products on the developing human brain. Research that can inform FDA regulations on new tobacco products are of particular interest (see new FDA deeming rule on new tobacco products).

Another key area of interest is the co-use of nicotine and other substances such as alcohol and marijuana. It is known that adolescents are particularly susceptible to developing addictions because of the formative stage of their brain development and that they often experiment with multiple addictive substances such as nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana. It is important, therefore, that we understand the biological and behavioral aspects of co-use of nicotine and other addictive substances among adolescents.

TRDRP will continue to fund neuroscience projects focused on improving our understanding of nicotine addiction and its treatment.

Examples of relevant research topics include:

  • Longitudinal behavioral and/or neuroimaging studies of the impact of nicotine alone or co-use with other substances on human brain development
  • Neuroimaging studies of the acute effects of nicotine alone or co-use with other substances on human brain structure and function
  • Studies of brain connectivity and interaction between neural pathways utilized by different agonists (e.g., glutamatergic, cholinergic, dopaminergic, etc.)
  • The addictive potential of flavorings and other constituents of e-cigarette aerosol
  • Testing the efficacy and side effects of existing cessation drugs in racial/ethnic minority, LGBT and low socioeconomic status groups, sectors typically not fully represented in clinical trials
  • Improving the efficacy of existing cessation drugs and/or identifying and developing more efficacious partial agonists

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