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B. What Nicotine Does to the Brain

Narrator: This is Science Today. Researchers have found for the first time that nicotine causes selective degeneration in the brain. In fact, UCLA neuroscientist Gaylord Ellison, who conducted the study, says it's the most selective degeneration in the brain he's ever seen, in that only one tract of the brain is affected.

Ellison: It's only one tract, but when I say one tract, I'm talking about millions of axons. It's one tract, but it's an important tract.

Narrator: It's called the fasciculus retroflexus, a region of the brain just above the thalamus, and it has two halves. One half Ellison discovered in previous research, is damaged by drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy. Now, Ellison's research team has found that nicotine causes neurotoxicity in the other half.

Ellison: So perhaps by understanding better these two halves of the neurotoxicity, one could develop strategies for reducing neurotoxic effects on one side versus the other.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.