Narrator: This is Science Today. We all know about the harmful effects of nicotine - especially on the heart and lungs - and now new research from UCLA has found that nicotine causes very selective degeneration in a region of the brain that affects emotional control, libido and REM sleep. But neuroscientist Gaylord Ellison, who led the study, says there are also beneficial ways that nicotine affects the brain.
Ellison: Smokers have less Parkinson's disease, schizophrenics are notorious smokers and there's a lot of thought that maybe this is self-medication - that there's this balance.
Narrator: While Ellison is working to find out what aspect of nicotine is causing the selective brain degeneration, another goal is to somehow maintain the good effects, which include increased alertness and memory.
Ellison: It's clear to me the goal now should be to find out with these various compounds that humans have developed a preference for - how do you get rid of the bad effects and keep the good effects?
Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.