New Pac Man-Like Enzyme May Lead To Powerful Class Of Anti Smoking Drugs

A new scientific advancement may help people quit smoking in the near future. Research published earlier this week in the Journal of the American Chemical Society indicates that a bacterium found in nature may hold the key to a new, successful method to cease smoking. Presently, people trying to quit the nasty habit fail 80-90% of the time. The new research hopes to greatly improve these odds.

An enzyme found in the Pseudomonas putida bacterium consumes nicotine as its sole source of nitrogen and carbon. Interestingly, the bacterium was originally isolated from the soil found in tobacco fields. The idea behind an enzyme therapy is that it would find and destroy nicotine molecules before it reaches the brain- thus depriving smokers of the nicotine buzz felt when smoking. Kim Janda, a professor of chemistry and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at TSRI stated that, “The bacterium is like a little Pac-Man. It goes along and eats nicotine.”

The authors of the study, from the nonprofit Scripps Research Institute (“TSRI”), have been able to recreate the NicA2 enzyme in the lab while retaining its strength. This property allows the enzyme to become a potential candidate for human drug development. Janda stated that “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.”

Early tests of the enzyme therapy have been encouraging to researchers. In their study, the scientists combined mice serum with a dose of nicotine equivalent to that found in one cigarette. When they added the enzyme, the life of the nicotine dropped from two to three hours down to 9-15 minutes. Modifying the enzyme further could potentially reduce the half-life of nicotine even more and prevent it from ever reaching the brain.

The stability of the enzyme in addition to the fact that no toxic residue was produced when the enzyme “ate” the nicotine is “pretty remarkable.” The results illustrate that the enzyme’s properties are “important for a therapeutic candidate.”

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