Does this explain why schizophrenics often smoke? Nicotine helps to reduce the effects of the mental illness, groundbreaking research shows

Smoking helps to reduce the effects of schizophrenia, groundbreaking new research suggests.

Caused by an impairment in brain activity, nicotine helps to speed up neurons in sufferers - preventing any symptoms, scientists have found.

Experts say the drug, found in tobacco, could be used in non-addictive forms to stop millions of sufferers worldwide turning to cigarettes for relief.

Scientists have found that smoking could help to provide relief to patients of schizophrenia

Scientists have found that smoking could help to provide relief to patients of schizophrenia

Study author Jerry Stitzel, from the University of Colorado Boulder, said: 'Our study provides compelling biological evidence that a specific genetic variant contributes to risk for schizophrenia, defines the mechanism responsible for the effect and validates that nicotine improves that deficit.

'Basically the nicotine is compensating for a genetically determined impairment. No-one has ever shown that before.'

Researchers set out to explore what causes hypofrontality - believed to be a factor in schizophrenia.

The reduction of neurons firing in the prefrontal cortex has been considered a reason for sufferers struggling to remember things and make decisions.

And previous studies have suggested that those with a variant in a gene called CHRNA5 are most at risk of the mental health condition.

While those who have the quirk in their DNA are also known to be more likely to smoke, experts believe.

And up to 90 per cent of people with schizophrenia are believed to use cigarettes - leading to scientists to believe it's a form of self-medication.

To assess the link, the researchers assessed if the CHRNA5 variant does lead to hypofrontality and if nicotine can interrupt it.

And in tests on mice, using state-of-the-art brain imaging scans they found those with the genetic twist had hypofrontality.

Behavioral tests then confirmed the findings, showing it was responsible for key characteristics of schizophrenia.

While they found giving the rodents nicotine daily, their sluggish brain activity increased within two days.

And within a week, the brain activity had been completely normalised, the study published in Nature Medicine found.

Because hypofrontality is also associated with addictive behaviours, the research could be applied to other mental health areas, they said.

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