As millions of Americans struggle with nicotine addiction, Grinnell College biological chemistry researchers have made a discovery that could guide efforts to design drugs to block the effects of nicotine – helping users to overcome this addiction.

The research, which examines the family of proteins in the nervous system that respond to nicotine, was conducted by a team of biological chemistry students led by Mark Levandoski, associate professor of chemistry. Nicotine acts like a “key” to “unlock” these proteins, and this allows nerve cells to transmit information to one another.

Levandoski’s team discovered that the proteins react to certain other “keys,” working similarly to nicotine, but through a new, previously unknown, “lock.” The new “lock” may provide new strategies for pharmaceutical companies in developing treatments for nicotine addiction – which could ultimately provide users with an easier way to quit.

The National Institutes of Health and Research Corporation supported this protein research, and the findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience in 2009.

Mark Levandoski is available for interviews to discuss this research, including how it impacts drug design. Contact Grinnell Communication.

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