Smoking, nicotine and Parkinson's disease

Epidemiologic evidence has suggested a negative association between cigarette smoking and the risk of Parkinson's disease. Although many of the studies had limitations, in aggregate they suggest that smoking may actually be a protective exposure. Other lines of evidence support this view, especially animal data indicating a dopaminergic effect of smoking on the brain.

Epidemiological studies show that smoking is associated with a lower incidence of Parkinson's disease (PD). This finding is important because it could provide clues about therapeutic strategies for protection against this debilitating movement disorder. Smoke contains numerous chemicals that could be responsible for the apparent protective effect. Here, a role for nicotine is considered, because this chemical stimulates brain dopaminergic systems and provides some symptomatic benefit in PD. Nicotine also has a neuroprotective action. Putative factors and signaling pathways involved in the actions of nicotine are discussed. An understanding of the molecular basis for the reduced occurrence of PD in tobacco users is crucial for the development of intervention strategies to reduce or halt disease progression.

The Parkinson's Institute, 1170 Morse Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94089, USA.

Published by Maryka Quik in Trends in Neurosciences, September 2004

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