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Nicotine, Body Weight and Potential Implications in the Treatment of Obesity

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Obesity is an epidemic problem in the U. S. and many other industrialized nations. Historically, the drugs used for the treatment of obesity generally targeted small molecule neurotransmitters. As research grows to decipher the underlying molecular mechanisms behind energy homeostasis, it is becoming evident that the modulating effects of neuropeptides also are critical in the regulation of appetite and metabolism. The search for drugs to modify these monoaminergic and peptidergic pathways may eventually prove successful in the treatment of obesity. While tobacco smoking has long been used as one strategy to maintain a lower body weight, especially in female smokers, its adverse associations with addiction and disease overshadow its potential use as an antiobesity agent. Potential pharmacological effects of nicotine could be better understood as the intricacies of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor are revealed. The objective of this review is threefold: first is to provide an overview of the physiological effects of nicotine on body weight while focusing on the drugs that are available as antiobesity and smoking cessation agents. Second is to provide the present status of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor as it relates to energy homeostasis and its potential as an effective treatment modality for obesity. Third is to present the current knowledge with respect to nicotine's effects on energy homeostatic and reward related pathways at the molecular level. A better understanding of the regulatory mechanisms underlying the pharmacological effects of nicotine on body weight will provide insights in identification of potential targets for the development of appropriate medicines in the treatment of obesity.

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Keywords: body weight; food intake; nicotine; nicotinic receptor; obesity; signaling pathways; smoking cessation

Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: May 1, 2003

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