Potent Dopamine D2 Antagonists Block the Reward-Enhancing Effects of Nicotine in Smokers With Schizophrenia

Schizophr Bull. 2019 Oct 24;45(6):1300-1308. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sby185.


Antipsychotics that are potent dopamine (DA) D2 receptor antagonists have been linked to elevated levels of nicotine dependence in smokers with schizophrenia. Because activation of D2 receptors mediates motivation for nicotine, we examined whether potent D2 antagonists would diminish nicotine's ability to stimulate reward processing-a mechanism that may drive compensatory increases in smoking. Smokers with schizophrenia (n = 184) were recruited and stratified into medication groups based on D2 receptor antagonist potency. The effects of smoking on reward function were assessed using a probabilistic reward task (PRT), administered pre- and post-smoking. The PRT used an asymmetrical reinforcement schedule to produce a behavioral response bias, previously found to increase under conditions (including smoking) that enhance mesolimbic DA signaling. Among the 98 participants with valid PRT data and pharmacotherapy that could be stratified into D2 receptor antagonism potency, a medication × smoking × block interaction emerged (P = .005). Post-hoc tests revealed a smoking × block interaction only for those not taking potent D2 antagonists (P = .007). This group exhibited smoking-related increases in response bias (P < .001) that were absent in those taking potent D2 antagonists (P > .05). Our findings suggest that potent D2 antagonists diminish the reward-enhancing effects of nicotine in smokers with schizophrenia. This may be a mechanism implicated in the increased rate of smoking often observed in patients prescribed these medications. These findings have important clinical implications for the treatment of nicotine dependence in schizophrenia.

Keywords: antipsychotics; nicotine dependence; reward learning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cigarette Smoking / psychology*
  • Dopamine D2 Receptor Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Reward*
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Dopamine D2 Receptor Antagonists
  • Nicotine