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Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Aug;63(8):907-15.

Cigarette smoking saturates brain alpha 4 beta 2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.

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Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.



2-[18F]fluoro-3-(2(S)-azetidinylmethoxy) pyridine (2-F-A-85380, abbreviated as 2-FA) is a recently developed radioligand that allows for visualization of brain alpha 4 beta 2* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) with positron emission tomography (PET) scanning in humans.


To determine the effect of cigarette smoking on alpha 4 beta 2* nAChR occupancy in tobacco-dependent smokers.


Fourteen 2-FA PET scanning sessions were performed. During the PET scanning sessions, subjects smoked 1 of 5 amounts (none, 1 puff, 3 puffs, 1 full cigarette, or to satiety [2(1/2) to 3 cigarettes]).


Academic brain imaging center.


Eleven tobacco-dependent smokers (paid volunteers). Main Outcome Measure Dose-dependent effect of smoking on occupancy of alpha 4 beta 2* nAChRs, as measured with 2-FA and PET in nAChR-rich brain regions.


Smoking 0.13 (1 to 2 puffs) of a cigarette resulted in 50% occupancy of alpha 4 beta 2* nAChRs for 3.1 hours after smoking. Smoking a full cigarette (or more) resulted in more than 88% receptor occupancy and was accompanied by a reduction in cigarette craving. A venous plasma nicotine concentration of 0.87 ng/mL (roughly 1/25th of the level achieved in typical daily smokers) was associated with 50% occupancy of alpha 4 beta 2* nAChRs.


Cigarette smoking in amounts used by typical daily smokers leads to nearly complete occupancy of alpha 4 beta 2* nAChRs, indicating that tobacco-dependent smokers maintain alpha 4 beta 2* nAChR saturation throughout the day. Because prolonged binding of nicotine to alpha 4 beta 2* nAChRs is associated with desensitization of these receptors, the extent of receptor occupancy found herein suggests that smoking may lead to withdrawal alleviation by maintaining nAChRs in the desensitized state.

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