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Schizophrenics are two to three times more likely to smoke than the general population, puffing up to four packs a day, according to Science magazine’s Rachel Zelkowitz. Researchers think they’ve identified why this group craves nicotine — because they need it.
A 2008 University of Illinois study on mice showed that cigarette smoke actually increased production of a neutral protein most schizophrenics have little of, which could help to ease their symptoms, Zelkowitz writes.
According to the magazine:
The team injected groups of six normal mice with the equivalent amount of nicotine as someone would receive from smoking 20 to 30 cigarettes at a time (about one pack). Some groups received the treatment once every 3 hours for 4 days–simulating constant, heavy smoking–and the second group received the treatment only once. Mice that received the largest amount of nicotine produced up to 38% less of a protein called DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1), which led to a surge in the protein that produces GABA….the researchers speculate that high levels of nicotine switch off DNMT1, which is present in large amounts in the schizophrenic brain.
Francine Benes, a psychologist at Harvard, told the magazine that the findings are important for treating schizophrenia.
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