Cytisine for smoking cessation: a research agenda

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008 Jan 1;92(1-3):3-8. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.06.017. Epub 2007 Sep 6.


Cytisine has a molecular structure somewhat similar to that of nicotine and varenicline. The concept for the new smoking cessation drug varenicline was based partly on cytisine. Like varenicline, cytisine is a partial agonist of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, with high affinity for alpha4beta2 receptors. Cytisine has been used since the 1960s as a smoking cessation drug in Eastern and Central Europe, but has remained largely unnoticed elsewhere. Three placebo-controlled trials, conducted in East and West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, suggest that cytisine, even with minimal behavioural support, may be effective in aiding smoking cessation. Cytisine tablets are very inexpensive to produce and could be a more affordable treatment than nicotine replacement, bupropion and varenicline. There is however a dearth of scientific research on the properties of cytisine, including safety, abuse liability and efficacy. This paper seeks to identify research priorities for molecular, animal and clinical studies. In particular, new studies are necessary to define the nicotinic receptor interaction profile of cytisine, to establish its pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in humans, to determine whether animals self-administer cytisine, and to ascertain whether cytisine is safe and effective as a smoking cessation drug. Potentially, this research effort, contributing to wider use of an inexpensive drug, could save many lives.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / adverse effects
  • Alkaloids / pharmacokinetics
  • Alkaloids / therapeutic use*
  • Alkaloids / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Azocines / adverse effects
  • Azocines / pharmacokinetics
  • Azocines / therapeutic use
  • Azocines / toxicity
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Overdose
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Quinolizines / adverse effects
  • Quinolizines / pharmacokinetics
  • Quinolizines / therapeutic use
  • Quinolizines / toxicity
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Alkaloids
  • Azocines
  • Quinolizines
  • cytisine
  • Nicotine