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ETSU’s Brown receives NIH funding for research targeting schizophrenia and smoking

Contributed • Jun 14, 2019 at 5:48 PM

A researcher at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine recently received a $435,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health that will help develop possible new treatments targeting smoking and the symptoms of schizophrenia.

For many years, scientists have been interested in identifying treatments for tobacco smoking in the population diagnosed with schizophrenia, as well as other mental disorders.

“A major issue in schizophrenia is tobacco smoking, which leads to lung cancer, poor quality of life and negative health outcomes,” said Dr. Russell Brown, professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Quillen College of Medicine. “Approximately 80% of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia smoke cigarettes, which is about four times higher than the general population.”

The overriding theory behind such heavy tobacco smoking in schizophrenia is that it’s a form of self-medication for the disease, helping with increased attentional ability, but also nicotine, the psychoactive ingredient in tobacco, is positively reinforcing.

“Right now, there are smoking cessation treatments that have been used, but the problem is they could have some side effects that could produce psychosis,” Brown said.

These types of side effects in patients who are already experiencing a form of psychosis make these current treatments unsuccessful and undesirable for individuals with schizophrenia.

“We are trying to go about this in a different way and go after a completely different pharmacological target to see if we can actually alleviate rewarding aspects of nicotine, as well as alleviate the disease process of schizophrenia,” Brown said.

Brown’s study is targeting the adenosine system, a neuromodulator in the brain that has been suggested as a new target for drug treatment for both tobacco smoking in individuals with schizophrenia and the treatment of psychotic symptoms in this population. This is the third NIH grant related to schizophrenia that Brown has received, and he hopes that it will lead to clinical trials for better drug treatments.

“Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate that stimulation of the adenosine A(2A) receptor can alleviate both the rewarding aspects of nicotine and the behavioral symptoms associated with the disease process of schizophrenia,” Brown said.

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