The potential role of cotinine in the cognitive and neuroprotective actions of nicotine

Jerry J. Buccafusco, Alvin V. Terry

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Cotinine is a primary metabolite of nicotine that has been suggested in many studies in animals and in humans to exert measurable effects on aspects of on-going behavior or on cognitive function. Much of the interest in cotinine derives from its long pharmacological half-life (15-19 hours) relative to nicotine (2-3 hours). Despite decades of study focusing on nicotine as the predominant behaviorally active component of tobacco, there continue to be aspects of the pharmacology of the drug that have yet to be explained. For example, nicotine can evoke a protracted behavioral response, i.e., in great excess of the presence of the drug in the plasma. Also, there is often a striking differential between the potency for nicotine-induced behavioral responses in humans and animals, and its potency as a cholinergic agonist, neurochemically. One possibility that may explain one or more of these properties of nicotine is the presence of a long-lived bioactive metabolite or breakdown product of nicotine such as cotinine. Preliminary data in support of this hypothesis are consistent with the ability of cotinine to improve performance accuracy on delayed matching task by macaque monkeys, and in reversing apomorphine-induced deficits in prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle in rats. The drug also was shown to be as potent as nicotine in the ability to act as a cytoprotective agent in cells that express a neuronal cholinergic phenotype. This new appreciation for the role of cotinine in nicotine's actions, and as a pharmacological agent in its own right, particularly in aspects of cognitive function and for neuroprotection, ultimately may be applied towards the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, and for various psychiatric syndromes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2931-2942
Number of pages12
JournalLife sciences
Issue number26
StatePublished - May 16 2003


  • Attention
  • Cotinine
  • Cytoprotection
  • Memory
  • Nicotinic receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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