The Role of Nicotine in Schizophrenia

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2015:124:23-78. doi: 10.1016/bs.irn.2015.07.002. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


Schizophrenia is associated with by severe disruptions in thought, cognition, emotion, and behavior. Patients show a marked increase in rates of smoking and nicotine dependence relative to nonaffected individuals, a finding commonly ascribed to the potential ameliorative effects of nicotine on symptom severity and cognitive impairment. Indeed, many studies have demonstrated improvement in patients following the administration of nicotine. Such findings have led to an increased emphasis on the development of therapeutic agents to target the nicotinic system as well as increasing the impetus to understand the genetic basis for nicotinic dysfunction in schizophrenia. The goal of this review article is to provide a critical summary of evidence for the role of the nicotinic system in schizophrenia. The first part will review the role of nicotine in normalization of primary dysfunctions and endophenotypical changes found in schizophrenia. The second part will provide a summary of genetic evidence linking polymorphisms in nicotinic receptor genes to smoking and schizophrenia. The third part will summarize attempts to treat schizophrenia using agents specifically targeting nicotinic and nicotinic receptor subtypes. Although currently available antipsychotic treatments are generally able to manage some aspects of schizophrenia (e.g., positive symptoms) they fail to address several other critically effected aspects of the disease. As such, the search for novel mechanisms to treat this disease is necessary.

Keywords: EEG; Event-related potential; MMN; Nicotinic receptor genes; Sensory gating; α4β2; α7.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / drug effects
  • Evoked Potentials / genetics
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / therapeutic use*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / genetics
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Nicotine