Background: The role of neuronal nicotinic receptors in the etiology and pathophysiology of schizophrenia has been suggested by postmortem findings as well as by linkage analysis implicating chromosome 15q14, the region where the α-7 nicotinic receptor gene is located. In addition, drug probe studies show that acute nicotine administration reverses sensory gating and eye-tracking deficits associated with the genetic liability for schizophrenia. The purpose of the current study was to examine the effects of acute administration of nicotine on specific measures of smooth pursuit eye movements and visual attention.
Methods: Twenty nine subjects with schizophrenia (15 smokers and 14 nonsmokers), and 26 healthy comparison subjects (15 smokers and 11 nonsmokers) completed testing. The effects of 1 mg of nicotine, administered by nasal spray, on smooth pursuit initiation, pursuit maintenance, and predictive pursuit were examined.
Results: Nicotine significantly improved eye acceleration during smooth pursuit initiation in both smoker and nonsmoker patients but had no effects in healthy subjects. The fact that patient initiation eye acceleration in response to nicotine was significantly higher than in healthy subjects suggests that the lack of effect in healthy subjects was not due to ceiling effects. Nicotine significantly improved pursuit gain during maintenance at a target velocity of 18.7 deg/sec. There were no effects of nicotine on visually guided and memory saccades, or visual attention (d′ from a continuous performance task).
Conclusions: Nicotine showed differential effects in schizophrenic patients compared to healthy subjects. These effects of nicotine were unlikely the result of differences in vigilance or sustained attention, because saccadic peak velocity, a sensitive measure of vigilance, and continuous performance task measures were not affected by nicotine. These findings are not thought to be an artifact of nicotine withdrawal effects at baseline, because the abstinence period was very short, and there were similar effects of nicotine on initiation in nonsmoker patients. These findings suggest an abnormality in neuronal nicotinic system functioning in schizophrenic patients.
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Accepted: January 25, 2002
Received in revised form: January 8, 2002
Received: September 28, 2001
© 2002 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.