New research has found that nicotine can have effects on the brain that may impact upon how the pancreas functions.

A trial carried out by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai involving rats say consuming nicotine is linked to effects on the pancreas, via a brain circuit. Nicotine, typically present in cigarettes and many vaping liquids, is highly addictive and a harmful ingredient.

The researchers report that when inhaled into the body, nicotine makes the pancreas release less insulin which in turn increases blood glucose levels. Even a small rise in blood glucose can be enough to lead to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes if someone is currently at risk of developing the condition.

Previous research has shown smoking to be associated with higher rates of type 2 diabetes. The study here suggests that nicotine’s effect on the brain could be a key factor.

Senior author of the research Dr Paul Kenny, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said: “Our findings are important because they describe a mechanism that controls the addictive properties of nicotine and, surprisingly, show that the same addiction-related brain circuits also contribute to smoking-related diseases previously thought to be related to the actions of tobacco outside the brain.

“These unexpected findings suggest that at least some of the disease-causing actions of nicotine arise in the brain by the very same circuits that control the addictive properties of the drug. This means that the addictive and disease-causing actions of tobacco may, in some cases, share the very same underlying mechanisms.”

The findings involve a protein called transcription factor 7-like 2 (Tcf7l2) and the next step will be to see whether the process works in the same way among human beings when nicotine is inhaled through smoking.

Dr Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study, added: “This unanticipated finding suggests a link between nicotine use and the onset of type 2 diabetes, with implications for future prevention and treatment strategies for both diseases.

“Although addiction is a brain disease, this discovery underscores how the body’s complex functions are exquisitely interconnected, revealing the need for integrated and innovative research.”

The study is published in the journal, Nature.

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