Nicotine and Nicotinic Receptor Drugs: Potential for Parkinson's Disease and Drug-Induced Movement Disorders

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2015;124:247-71. doi: 10.1016/bs.irn.2015.07.005. Epub 2015 Aug 18.


Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder associated with tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia, as well as nonmotor symptoms including autonomic impairments, olfactory dysfunction, sleep disturbances, depression, and dementia. Although the major neurological deficit is a loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons, multiple neurotransmitters systems are compromised in Parkinson's disease. Consistent with this observation, dopamine replacement therapy dramatically improves Parkinson's disease motor symptoms. Additionally, drugs targeting the serotonergic, glutamatergic, adenosine, and other neurotransmitter systems may be beneficial. Recent evidence also indicates that nicotinic cholinergic drugs may be useful for the management of Parkinson's disease. This possibility initially arose from the results of epidemiological studies, which showed that smoking was associated with a decreased incidence of Parkinson's disease, an effect mediated in part by the nicotine in smoke. Further evidence for this idea stemmed from preclinical studies which showed that nicotine administration reduced nigrostriatal damage in parkinsonian rodents and monkeys. In addition to a potential neuroprotective role, emerging work indicates that nicotinic receptor drugs improve the abnormal involuntary movements or dyskinesias that arise as a side effect of l-dopa treatment, the gold standard therapy for Parkinson's disease. Both nicotine and nicotinic receptor drugs reduced l-dopa-induced dyskinesias by over 50% in parkinsonian rodent and monkey models. Notably, nicotine also attenuated the abnormal involuntary movements or tardive dyskinesias that arise with antipsychotic treatment. These observations, coupled with reports that nicotinic receptor drugs have procognitive and antidepressant effects, suggest that central nervous system (CNS) nicotinic receptors may represent useful targets for the treatment of movement disorders.

Keywords: Antipsychotics; Dyskinesias; Neuroprotection; Nicotine; Nicotinic; Parkinson's disease; Smoking; Tardive dyskinesia; l-Dopa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiparkinson Agents / adverse effects
  • Antiparkinson Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Movement Disorders / etiology*
  • Nicotine / therapeutic use*
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy*


  • Antiparkinson Agents
  • Nicotine