Smoking restores impaired LTD-like plasticity in schizophrenia: a transcranial direct current stimulation study

Wolfgang Strube, Tilmann Bunse, Michael A Nitsche, Thomas Wobrock, Richard Aborowa, Kristina Misewitsch, Maximiliane Herrmann, Peter Falkai, Alkomiet Hasan
Neuropsychopharmacology 2015, 40 (4): 822-30
Impaired neuroplastic responses following noninvasive brain stimulation have been reported repeatedly in schizophrenia patients. These findings have been associated with deficits in GABAergic, glutamatergic, and cholinergic neurotransmission. Although various neurophysiological studies have indicated a relationship between nicotine and neuroplasticity in healthy individuals, the present study is the first investigation into the impact of nicotine on LTD-like plasticity in patients with schizophrenia. Cortical excitability and cortical plasticity were explored in 30 schizophrenia patients (17 smoker, 13 nonsmoker) and 45 healthy controls (13 smoker, 32 nonsmoker) by using single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) before and following cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied to the left primary motor cortex. Our analysis revealed abolished LTD-like plasticity in nonsmoking schizophrenia patients. However, these plasticity deficits were not present in smoking schizophrenia patients. In healthy controls, significant MEP reductions following cathodal tDCS were observed in nonsmoking individuals, but only trend-level reductions in smokers. In smoking schizophrenia patients, the severity of negative symptoms correlated positively with reduced neuroplasticity, whereas nonsmoking patients displayed the opposite effect. Taken together, the data of our study support the notion of an association between chronic smoking and the restitution of impaired LTD-like plasticity in schizophrenia patients. Although replication and further research are needed to better understand this relationship, our findings indicate that nicotine intake might stabilize the impaired inhibition-facilitation balance in the schizophrenic brain through a complex interaction between cortical plasticity, and GABAergic and cholinergic neurotransmission, and might explain the reduced prevalence of negative symptoms in this population.

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