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The effects of nicotine on cognition are dependent on baseline performance

The effects of nicotine on cognition are dependent on baseline performance

European Neuropsychopharmacology 24(7): 1015-1023

Since cholinergic neurotransmission plays a major role in cognition, stimulation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor may be a target for cognitive enhancement. While nicotine improves performance on several cognitive domains, results of individual studies vary. A possible explanation for these findings is that the effect of nicotine administration may be dependent on baseline cognitive function, where subjects with a suboptimal cognitive performance may benefit from nicotine, while subjects who already perform optimally may show a decline in performance after nicotinic stimulation. We conducted a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial, examining the effects of placebo, 1, and 2mg of nicotine on cognition in young (n=16, age 18-30 years) and healthy elderly (n=16, age 60-75 years) subjects. We hypothesised that the elderly would benefit more from nicotine compared to young subjects, as normal ageing is associated with decreases in cognitive function. Attention, working memory, visual memory, information-processing speed, psychomotor function, stereotypy, and emotion recognition were assessed. Compared to the young volunteers, the elderly performed significantly worse on psychomotor function and emotion recognition in the placebo condition. Nicotine had no effect in the young volunteers and decreased performance on working memory and visual memory in the elderly. Contrary to our hypothesis, the effect of nicotine was dependent on baseline performance in both the groups, with subjects with lower baseline performance benefiting from nicotine administration, while those with higher baseline performance performed worse after nicotine administration. This suggests that subjects with lower cognitive performance, irrespective of age, may benefit from nicotine.

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Accession: 056322572

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PMID: 24766971

DOI: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2014.03.011

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