In a first of its kind study on nicotine addiction, scientists measured a behavior that can be similarly quantified across species like humans and rats, the responses to rewards during nicotine withdrawal. Findings from this study were published online on Sept. 10, 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry.
Response to reward is the brain’s ability to derive and recognize pleasure from natural things such as food, money and sex. The reduced ability to respond to rewards is a behavioral process associated with depression in humans. In prior studies of nicotine withdrawal, investigators used very different behavioral measurements across humans and rats, limiting our understanding of this important brain reward system.
“The fact that the effect was similar across species using this translational task not only provides us with a ready framework to proceed with additional research to better understand the mechanisms underlying withdrawal of nicotine, and potentially new treatment development, but it also makes us feel more confident that we are actually studying the same behavior in humans and rats as the studies move forward,” said Michele Pergadia, PhD, associate professor of clinical biomedical science in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University.
Pergadia and colleagues plan to pursue future studies that will include a systematic study of depression vulnerability as it relates to reward sensitivity, the course of withdrawal-related reward deficits, including effects on relapse to smoking, and identification of processes in the brain that lead to these behaviors.
Pergadia emphasizes that the ultimate goal of this line of research is to improve treatments that manage nicotine withdrawal-related symptoms and thereby increase success during efforts to quit.