Role of Nicotinic Receptors in Parkinson’s Disease | SRI International

Toggle Menu
diagram of nicotinic receptors

Role of Nicotinic Receptors in Parkinson’s Disease

SRI is investigating whether the nicotine in tobacco smoke may be useful in meeting the urgent need to manage Parkinson’s disease.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease face progressive nervous system effects and limited treatment options. The disease is characterized by neuronal degeneration, with a particularly prominent decline in nigrostriatal dopamine neurons. This results in motor deficits, including rigidity, tremor, and bradykinesia, which can be very debilitating. Treatment is currently limited, and the disease continually worsens. An urgent need exists for improved symptomatic therapies and treatments to reduce disease progression.

The epidemiological literature shows that tobacco use is linked to a decreased incidence of Parkinson’s disease. SRI is researching the role of nicotine and the brain nicotinic cholinergic system in Parkinson’s disease. One goal is to investigate whether nicotine in tobacco smoke may be useful for Parkinson’s disease management. Our results indicate that nicotine administration reduces nigrostriatal damage in Parkinsonian animal models.

Studies are under way to determine the mechanisms through which nicotine protects nerve cells. This work should indicate drug candidates that may protect against the development of Parkinson's disease. Experiments are also in progress to determine whether nicotine may relieve or minimize Parkinson’s symptoms, including tremors, “freezing,” and other motor effects.

Overall, these studies will enhance understanding of a key pathway, the nicotinic cholinergic system, and advance Parkinson’s disease treatment and therapies.