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Preclinical pharmacology, efficacy, and safety of varenicline in smoking cessation and clinical utility in high risk patients

Authors Zheng-Xiong Xi

Published Date April 2010 Volume 2010:2 Pages 39—48


Published 14 April 2010

Zheng-Xiong Xi

National Institute on Drug Abuse, Intramural Research Program, Baltimore, MD, USA

Abstract: Smoking is still the most prominent cause of preventable premature death in the United States and an increasing cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world. Although the current treatments such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and bupropion are effective, long-term abstinence rates are low. Mechanism studies suggest that the pleasurable effects of smoking are mediated predominantly by nicotine, which activates the brain reward system by activation of brain α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Varenicline is a novel α4β2 nAChR partial agonist and has been found to be even more effective than NRT or bupropion in attenuating smoking satisfaction and in relieving craving and withdrawal symptoms after abstinence. Thus, varenicline has been recently approved to be a first-line medication for smoking cessation in the United States and European countries. Varenicline is generally well tolerated in healthy adult smokers, with the most commonly reported adverse effects being nausea, insomnia, and headache. However, growing postmarketing data has linked varenicline to an increase in neuropsychiatric symptoms such as seizures, suicidal attempts, depression, and psychosis as well as serious injuries potentially relating to unconsciousness, dizziness, visual disturbances, or movement disorders. Therefore, new safety warnings are issued to certain high risk populations, such as patients with mental illness and operators of commercial vehicles and heavy machinery. In particular, pilots, air traffic controllers, truck and bus drivers have been banned from taking varenicline.

Keywords: nicotine, varenicline, α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, nAChRs, partial agonist, smoking cessation

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