Nicotine-Consuming Bacteria Offers Key to Anti-Smoking Drug

In the last few years, smoking cessation aids have been shown to fail in 80 to 90 percent of smokers. A recent study conducted by the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at the Scripps Research Institute and published online ahead of print on August 6th has concluded that nicotine-consuming bacteria may be the source of an enzyme therapy that could help scientists develop a potent anti-smoking drug.


Man Smoking: Source: FlickrMan Smoking: Source: Flickr


The focus of such a therapy would be to destroy nicotine and deprive the smoker of the 'reward' before it reaches the brain, which is the usual trigger of  smoking relapse. One of the researchers, Kim Janda, professor of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in California said: "Our research is in the early phase of the drug development process, but the study tells us the enzyme has the right properties to eventually become a successful therapeutic."

In the words of researcher and graduate student, Song Xue: "The enzyme is also relatively stable in serum, which is important for a therapeutic candidate...Hopefully, we can improve its serum stability with our future studies so that a single injection may last up to a month."

How is enzyme therapy developed?
Serum from mice was combined with a dose of nicotine equivalent to that found in one cigarette. The addition of the enzyme decreased the nicotine's half-life (duration of effect) from two to three hours to just 9 to 15 minutes. Janda believes that the half-life of the nicotine can be reduced even further and prevented from ever reaching the brain with a few chemical adjustments and a slighty highr dose of the enzyme.

Janda and his colleagues have struggled unsuccessfully for more than three decades to create an enzyme within a lab environment and then serendipitously, they discovered an enzyme (NicA2) in nature that is found  in the bacteria, Pseuomonas putida, that looks promising for drug development.


Pseudomonas Putida: Source: MicrobewikiPseudomonas Putida: Source: Microbewiki


This rod-shaped bacteria, which was first isolated from soil found in a tobacco field, utilizies nicotine as its only source of carbon and oxygen. First discovered in the 199Os, it thrives throughout the wolrd in soil and freshwater environments and plays a vital role in the decomposition that propels the carbon cycle.

The future of enzyme therapy

Although research is still in its early stages, Janda is hopeful this new therapy will help smokers finally kick the habit. He says: "This bacterium is like a little Pac-Man that goes along and eats nicotine." A world without smokers may still be a way off in the future and nicotine is a powerful addiction, but this therapy may well dispel Hollywood's historically glamorous myths about smoking. Among the many celebrities who have died from their addiction to nicotine, count Humphrey Bogart and Nat King Cole.

Perhaps the words of that old song, Smoke Gets In your Eyes may be re-titled to Smoke Gets Nowhere Anymore? Not so romantic, but perhaps closer to reality than ever before.

Closing thoughts on smoking:
Quitting smoking is easy. I ought to know. I've done it hundreds of times. ~ Mark Twain