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Stop smoking, anti-obesity drug gets little attention in the US

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Nicotine effect on the brain curbs appetite

Now that scientists know why people gain weight when they stop smoking, researchers suggest development of drugs to prevent weight gain from quitting smoking. Understanding the effect of nicotine on the brain could help humans with obesity and drug addiction.In Europe, there is a drug for just that. The drug suggested has been around for decades, and comes from plants.

Nicotine's effect on the brain

Nicotine, it turns out, hones right in on brain cells that control appetite and body fat, bypassing the pleasure and reward brain pathway.

Study leader Marina Picciotto, PhD, of Yale University says, "We found that nicotine reduced eating and body fat through receptors implicated in nicotine aversion and withdrawal rather than reward and reinforcement.”

Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse says the distinction is “important” because it means drugs could be developed to prevent weight gain from quitting smoking that might curb nicotine withdrawal and other forms of addiction.

Mariella De Biasi, PhD, assistant director of the Center on Addiction, Learning, and Memory at Baylor College of Medicine said, since the findings explaining why smokers gain weight when they stop using nicotine were gleaned from mouse studies, drug development is a long way off.

De Biasi said the finding,” is not only important for the people that are trying to quit smoking, but the results provide a target for the development of drugs that might help to control obesity and related metabolic disorders."

Drug used in nicotine research is plant based, sold in Europe

In the study, researchers found the drug cytisine, which acts like nicotine in brain receptors, decreased appetite in mice. The drug is already sold in Eastern Europe and was being explored for depression treatment.

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Yann Maneur, an associate research scientist at Yale explains, "We were trying to find new drugs to treat depression. And as I was testing these new drugs I realized the animals were not eating as much."

Maneur and colleagues noted nicotine has an antidepressant effect, leading them to explore how nicotine might be used to help depression in humans, noted in a 2009 study, “Cytisine-Based Nicotinic Partial Agonists as Novel Antidepressant Compounds”, published in the Journal of Pharmacology.

Cytisine is a compound found in several plants has been ignored in the U.S., but has been around for decades. It comes from the leaves of C laburnum from the Golden Chain tree that, if consumed in large quantities, is highly toxic.

In a 10/03/2006 review, Jacqueline A Hart, MD suggested cytisine might be explored further after looking at available literature.

Since then, the cytisine derivative varenicline (Chantix) was approved by the FDA for smoking cessation, following a “priority review” by the agency, but carries a “black box warning”.

Hart wrote about the lack of interest in cytisine saying, “Not only does this reflect a concerning bias or prejudice against studies published in non-English languages, but it also may limit the options available to patients.”

She did note the studies may not have been up to par with U.S. research standards however. The viewpoint is published in Medscape Family Medicine.

Hart also wrote,” Despite use of C laburnum leaves as a tobacco substitute dating back to World War II and use of cytisine (marketed by a Bulgarian company as Tabex) for smoking cessation in Germany and Eastern Europe for decades, the English scientific literature pays virtually no attention to the potentials of this plant-based treatment for quitting nicotine.”

Now that researchers accidently discovered how nicotine works in the brain to curb weight gain and appetite in smokers, it’s possible the plant based medication cytisine, sold as Tabex by Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Group, Ltd., will get more attention in the U.S., though the current study authors say it may be a long way off. Cytisine acts like nicotine in the brain. Maneur says" when people try to quit smoking they could use drugs that are already available and known to trigger this pathway in order to potentially limit their weight gain."

Science: DOI: 10.1126/science.1201889
Nicotine Decreases Food Intake Through Activation of POMC Neurons
Yann S Mineur et al

Updated 9/25/2014



Excellent study Cytisine Laburnum has helped me stop smoking after some 45 years of nicotine addiction, best thing I ever did. Thank you for reinforcing. Peter
Thank you for commenting to let others know what can be successful Peter!
Can anyone give me some guidance on the possible affect of Tabex-Cytisine on patients with Crohns disease that want to quit smoking.
Hello.. I watched a infomercial this morning about TBXFREE. It has Cytisine as used for nicotine replacement an read the precautions. Does state, do not use if you have depression. I currently take Sertraline the generic for Zoloft..this antidepressant has saratonine an I have read online that Cytisine is maybe used for depression not just quit smoking aid. I understand that withdrawing from nicotine can cause depression but it's not clinical depression. Probably temporary effect due to coming off Nicotine.. Knowing that I have clinical depression under control, would using TBXFREE be safe..I am not allergic to anything according to my health records. I want to believe I could handle any depression from coming off Cigarettes..as I do use antidepressant everyday, ongoing psychotherapy an practice self recgonition of my thoughts, behaviors and emotional state. I do daily positive affirmations too. Also intake mostly plant based foods an do exercise often. Is there more to it being safe than being stable individual? Or is there interactions with TBXFREE an depression, antidepressant or what..I've tried gum patch Bupoprien an chantix..Chantix was negative effect of some moderate irritation. Discontinuing use of it. Other methods failed me.. Please..is there any qualified persons able to advise me an others in my delema?
Hi Darren: I think it would be best to ask your doctor. A pharmacist could also tell you about any interactions or concerns between TBXFREE and sertraline. Congratulations on your commitment!