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Surprising Science

Why Ex-Smokers Gain Weight

Scientists have found nicotine receptors in the brain of mice that appear to influence appetite. Might researchers one day engineer a weight-loss drug that mimics nicotine? 

What’s the Latest Development?

Smokers may be right to be concerned about weight-gain should they quit the habit. “In a new study out of Yale University and the Baylor College of Medicine, scientists investigated how nicotine worked in the brains of mice to suppress their appetite. They found that when nicotine binds to a particular receptor in the brain, certain neurons in the hypothalamus, called pro-opiomelanocortin, or POMC, cells, are activated. Mice with this pathway lost weight; those without an ‘intact’ pathway did not. The results were published online Thursday in the journal Science.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The finding of nicotine receptors in the brain that also regulate appetite may yield future medicines which allow humans to loose weight easily. National Institute of Drug Abuse director Dr. Nora D. Volkow said in a news release: “These results indicate that medications that specifically target this pathway could alleviate nicotine withdrawal as well as reduce the risk of overeating during smoking cessation. Although more research is warranted, such a highly selective compound might be more effective than drugs that act on more than one type of nicotinic receptor.”


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