Role of acetaldehyde in tobacco smoke addiction

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2007 Oct;17(10):627-36. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2007.02.013. Epub 2007 Mar 23.


This review evaluates the presumed contribution of acetaldehyde to tobacco smoke addiction. In rodents, acetaldehyde induces reinforcing effects, and acts in concert with nicotine. Harman and salsolinol, condensation products of acetaldehyde and biogenic amines, may be responsible for the observed reinforcing effect of acetaldehyde. Harman and salsolinol inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO), and some MAO-inhibitors are known to increase nicotine self-administration and maintain behavioural sensitization to nicotine. Harman is formed in cigarette smoke, and blood harman levels appear to be 2-10 times higher compared to non-smokers. Since harman readily passes the blood-brain barrier and has sufficient MAO-inhibiting potency, it may contribute to the lower MAO-activity observed in the brain of smokers. In contrast, the minor amounts of salsolinol that can be formed in vivo most likely do not contribute to tobacco addiction. Thus, acetaldehyde may increase the addictive potential of tobacco products via the formation of acetaldehyde-biogenic amine adducts in cigarette smoke and/or in vivo, but further research is necessary to substantiate this hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaldehyde / chemistry
  • Acetaldehyde / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Harmine / analogs & derivatives
  • Harmine / blood
  • Humans
  • Salsoline Alkaloids / blood
  • Tetrahydroisoquinolines / blood
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / metabolism*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology


  • Salsoline Alkaloids
  • Tetrahydroisoquinolines
  • Harmine
  • harman
  • Acetaldehyde
  • salsolidine