Background: Cigarette smoking rates in schizophrenia are higher than in the general population.
Objectives: To determine whether cigarette smoking modifies cognitive deficits in schizophrenia and to establish the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in mediating cigarette smoking-related cognitive enhancement.
Design: Neuropsychological assessments were performed at smoking baseline, after overnight abstinence, and after smoking reinstatement across 3 separate test weeks during which subjects were pretreated in a counterbalanced manner with the nonselective nAChR antagonist mecamylamine hydrochloride (0, 5, or 10 mg/d).
Participants: Twenty-five smokers with schizophrenia and 25 control smokers.
Setting: Outpatient mental health center.
Main outcome measures: Visuospatial working memory (VSWM) and Continuous Performance Test (CPT) scores.
Results: In smokers with schizophrenia and control smokers, overnight abstinence led to undetectable plasma nicotine levels and an increase in tobacco craving. While abstinence reduced CPT hit rate in both groups, VSWM was only impaired in smokers with schizophrenia. Smoking reinstatement reversed abstinence-induced cognitive impairment. Enhancement of VSWM and CPT performance by smoking reinstatement in smokers with schizophrenia, but not the subjective effects of smoking, was blocked by mecamylamine treatment.
Conclusions: Cigarette smoking may selectively enhance VSWM and attentional deficits in smokers with schizophrenia, which may depend on nAChR stimulation. These findings may have implications for understanding the high rates of smoking in schizophrenia and for developing pharmacotherapies for cognitive deficits and nicotine dependence in schizophrenia.