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Nicotine & Memory

October 6, 2009

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


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.

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.