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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1989;14(1-2):19-41.

Neuroendocrine actions of nicotine and of exposure to cigarette smoke: medical implications.

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Department of Histology and Neurobiology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Over many years a large number of studies have demonstrated that nicotine and exposure to cigarette smoke produce marked neuroendocrine changes in animals and in man. The initial effects of nicotine are characterized by a marked hypersecretion of ACTH, vasopressin, beta-endorphin, prolactin and LH. Many of these very acute stimulatory effects of nicotine rapidly disappear, probably due to a desensitization of the central nicotinic cholinergic receptors involved. Instead, upon acute intermittent treatment with nicotine or exposure to cigarette smoke, an inhibition of prolactin, LH and TSH secretion occurs, which is associated with maintained hypersecretion of corticosterone. These effects are probably mediated via activation of central cholinergic receptors of the ganglionic type. Evidence indicates that the inhibitory effects of nicotine on LH and prolactin secretion are produced via an activation by these nicotinic receptors of the tubero-infundibular dopamine neurons, releasing dopamine as a prolactin inhibitory factor. Dopamine inhibits LHRH release via an axonic interaction involving D1-like dopamine receptors in the median eminence. It therefore seems possible that the reduced fertility found in heavy smokers may be counteracted by D1 receptor antagonists. The symptoms associated with glucocorticoid hypersecretion induced by nicotine is discussed considering not only the peripheral side effects but also permanent deficits in hippocampal glucocorticoid receptors and loss of hippocampal neurons. In view of the important influence of hormones on immune functions, it seems likely that smoking will cause disturbances in immune responsiveness. Finally, the nicotine-induced alterations of neuroendocrine function, especially in the pituitary-adrenal axis and in vasopressin release, may also lead to behavioural consequences in smokers, especially in the withdrawal phase.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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