How adolescent nicotine exposure disturbs the adult brain

22 February 2011

CNCR investigators discovered the mechanism by which adolescent nicotine use causes long-lasting disturbances in attention as appeared in this week’s advance online publication of Nature Neuroscience.

This is revealed in a Nature Neuroscience paper by CNCR PhD students Danielle Counotte and Natalia Goriounova.

Tobacco (nicotine) smoking is highly prevalent and particularly adolescents are at high risk to start experimenting with this drug. Recent studies reveal that adolescents are not only more sensitive to the rewarding effects of nicotine, tobacco use interferes with the development of the frontal cortical regions and hence leads to cognitive impairments observed in later life. Until now, the molecular and cellular underpinnings of these harmful consequences for cognitive function remained elusive.

In a collaborative multidisciplinary project, two CNCR PhD students, Danielle Counotte and Natalia Goriounova, discovered a prime molecular mechanism by which adolescent nicotine impacts on adult brain function. The article published in Nature Neuroscience reveals that adolescent nicotine exposure in rats results in reduced mGluR2 receptor expression, and hence decreases function of glutamate synapses in the prefrontal cortex. Further experiments presented reveal that this alteration in mGluR2 function is responsible for attentional deficits in adulthood. The CNCR investigators showed by pharmacological intervention stimulating the mGluR2 receptor that the adolescent nicotine-induced attention shortfall can be restored to baseline levels, with the animals regaining normal attention. The study clearly shows that the adolescent brain is highly prone to the effect of addictive substances, and when translated to humans, it argues that early nicotine use may cause persistent attention deficits that display even in adulthood.

Lasting synaptic changes underlie attention deficits caused by nicotine exposure during adolescence. Danielle S. Counotte, Natalia A. Goriounova, Ka Wan Li, Maarten Loos, Roel C. van der Schors, Dustin Schetters, Anton N.M. Schoffelmeer, August B. Smit, Huibert D. Mansvelder, Tommy Pattij & Sabine Spijker
Nature Neuroscience Published online: 20 February 2011 | doi: XXXXXXXXXXXXXX