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Unique, long-term effects of nicotine on adolescent brain


Adolescence is a time of major plasticity of brain systems that regulate motivated behavior and cognition, and is also the age of peak onset of nicotine use. Although there has been a decline in teen use of cigarettes in recent years, there has been a huge increase in nicotine vaping. It is therefore critically important to understand the impact of nicotine on this critical phase of brain development. Animal studies have shown that nicotine has unique effects on adolescent brain. The goal of this review is therefore to systematically evaluate age- and sex-differences in the effects of nicotine on brain and behavior. Both acute and chronic effects of nicotine on brain biochemistry and behavior, particularly drug reward, aversion, cognition and emotion, are evaluated. Gaps in our current knowledge that need to be addressed are also highlighted. This review compares and integrates human and animals findings. Although there can be no experimental studies in humans to confirm similar behavioral effects of teen nicotine exposure, an emerging observational literature suggests similarities across species. Given the substantial evidence for long-term negative impact of adolescent nicotine exposure on brain and behavior, further longitudinal assessment of health outcomes in teen and young adult e-cigarette users is warranted.

Source: National Institute of Health (2021). Unique, long-term effects of nicotine on adolescent brain.