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Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Jan 15;65(2):144-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.08.028. Epub 2008 Oct 8.

Varenicline improves mood and cognition during smoking abstinence.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, 3811 O'Hara St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.



Neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are a key target in medication development for various neuropsychiatric disorders, including nicotine dependence. Varenicline, a partial agonist at the alpha4beta2 nAChRs, is a new, efficacious medication for nicotine dependence. Its effects on the affective and cognitive dimensions of nicotine withdrawal have yet to be well characterized.


Sixty-seven treatment-seeking smokers were administered varenicline (x 21 days) and placebo (x 21 days) in a double-blind within-subject crossover design. Following medication run-up (Days 1-10), there was a 3-day mandatory smoking abstinence phase (Days 11-13) during which subjective symptoms and cognitive performance were assessed. Participants were reexposed to a scheduled smoking lapse (Day 14) and followed for days to lapse (Days 15-21) in each medication period.


In the varenicline period, compared with placebo, withdrawal symptoms (p = .04), smoking urges (p < .001), and negative affect (p = .01) during manditory abstinence were significantly lower, and levels of positive affect (p = .046), sustained attention (p = .018), and working memory (p = .001) were significantly greater. Varenicline also significantly reduced subjective rewarding effects of the scheduled smoking lapse (e.g., satisfaction, relief, liking; p = .003). Medication effects on days to lapse following the scheduled smoking lapse were dependent on treatment order (p = .001); among participants who received placebo in the first period, varenicline increased days of abstinence in the follow-up period.


These data identify novel affective and cognitive effects of varenicline and may have implications for medication development for other neuropsychiatric conditions.

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