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Nicotine & Memory

October 6, 2009

Nicotine strengthens brain connections that associate memories with the urge to light up.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
How smoking burns into your brain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Recovering smokers often get strong urges around things they associated with smoking – from a favorite bar to a particular friend. Now, neuroscientist John Dani of the Baylor College of Medicine has shown the biology behind this. He explains that nicotine triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine. In a study in mice, he showed that the dopamine, in turn, creates lots of new connections in the hippocampus, a memory center.

JOHN DANI (Baylor College of Medicine):
And that process is the memory process. So for example, there’s a link made between the drug use and the people and the places involved with the drug experience.

HIRSHON:
Once this happened, the mice started hanging out in parts of their cage where they had once received nicotine – just as ex-smokers often feel a pull towards their old haunts and rituals. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.