Focus on Research
Penn State Intercom......May 9, 2002

Nicotine withdrawal,
inflammatory response similar

By Barbara Hale
Public Information

In a small study conducted at the University, researchers have shown, for the first time, that heavy or moderate smokers who stop smoking have symptoms similar to those experienced by patients undergoing an inflammatory response -- suggesting that anti-inflammatory medication might ease some nicotine withdrawal woes.

Elizabeth Corwin, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and the Intercollege Physiology Program, said, "Our research shows that nicotine withdrawal is a significant physical as well as psychological stressor that impacts multiple systems of the body, including the immune system. If we can relieve some negative symptoms -- including depression -- by reducing the inflammatory response, we may be able to increase the likelihood that heavy or moderate smokers can successfully quit."

ŻOur research shows that nicotine withdrawal is The study was conducted by Corwin and Laura Klein, assistant professor of biobehavioral health. Klein explained that smokers often fail multiple attempts to quit, in part, because of the unpleasant symptoms that accompany nicotine withdrawal, including depression, fatigue, muscle aches and appetite changes. Similar unpleasant symptoms accompany acute and chronic illness and these symptoms are known to result from elevated levels of cytokines, which are produced by white blood cells in response to inflammation. The researchers decided to see if cytokines could be linked to the same symptoms in smokers who stop smoking.

Blood samples from 20 heavy or moderate smokers, ages 18 to 35, were taken while they were smoking freely and after they had stopped smoking for 24 hours. Blood samples were also taken from 22 non-smokers for comparison. The same groups of smokers and non-smokers also completed questionnaires to gauge their fatigue, depression, muscle aches and appetite. Analysis of the symptom self-reports showed that depression, muscle aches and appetite all increased in smokers during nicotine withdrawal. Although fatigue did not increase significantly with nicotine withdrawal, smokers' fatigue scores were already higher at the start of the study when compared to non-smokers. Analysis of the blood samples showed that the levels of two cytokines, interleukin-1 beta (IL-1b) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), along with fatigue, in smokers predicted depression on nicotine withdrawal. Changes in the production of IL-6 were associated with muscle aches and increased appetite when smoking was stopped. There were no differences in men's and women's responses.

Corwin said, "The results support the hypothesis that smokers who stop smoking may experience depression, fatigue, muscle aches and appetite changes for similar biochemical reasons that individuals who have acute or chronic disease do. The same therapies -- anti-inflammatory medications -- may therefore help alleviate these symptoms."

Further studies are needed to find out which particular anti-inflammatory drugs or specific pro-inflammatory blocking agents might best reduce the unpleasant symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and support smokers while they quit. Corwin and Klein are planning such studies.

Barbara Hale can be reached at

Innovative treatment
to end epileptic seizures
deemed early success

Preston Earnest suffered with epileptic seizures almost every day of his 121Ž2 years. As an infant, a hemorrhage in a part of the brain called the thalamus caused chronic seizures and weakness in the left side of his body. Even the best medications available and a procedure called vagal nerve stimulation did not put an end to the seizures.

Recently, Earnest finally found relief. He underwent a rare procedure at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center that removed more than half of the right hemisphere of his brain. Called a functional hemispherectomy, the operation performed by neurosurgeon Paul M. Kanev and a team of medical staff, so far, has left Earnest seizure-free.

This is the first time a functional hemispherectomy was performed at the medical center.

"We have the only pediatric epilepsy surgical program in Central Pennsylvania and we're one of only a few medical centers in the state that offers aggressive surgical options like the hemispherectomy to help those with epilepsy," Kanev said.

Information grows
on seed packages

With the gardening season in full swing, it's time to decide what to plant in the garden this year.

Planting seeds offers gardeners a low-cost opportunity to stick with favorite plants and try out new ones. When considering seeds, a horticulture expert in the College of Agricultural Sciences advises that gardeners should ponder information found on the package. Planning with seed packages, according to Elsa Sánchez, assistant professor of horticultural systems management, makes a garden better.

* Picture: A picture of the plant in flower or harvested fruit or vegetable typically is found on the front of the seed package. The picture offers useful information like flower type and color and what to expect when harvesting a fruit or vegetable. Remember that the picture is usually of the flower, fruit or vegetable at its best, so use it only as a guide.

* Plant description: Often it is difficult to determine the form of a plant based on the picture. Seed packages usually provide a written description of the plant including the plant cultivar, plant height, days to harvest or bloom and habits, such as "climbing, upright," etc.

* Uses and weight: Seed packages often suggest uses for the plant. Some examples are for containers, beds, winter houseplants, trellises, etc. The number of seeds or weight of the seed also is found on the package.

* Date: The package will have the year for which the seeds were packaged. For example, "Packed For Season 2002." This information is important because as seeds age they loose viability. If seeds have a germination rate of 80 percent in 2002, the rate can be expected to be lower in 2003; for example, 50 percent.

* Planting directions: The package should have directions on when to plant the seeds, depending on where it will be planted in the United States. The directions should include planting depth, plant spacing and plant exposure requirements (full or partial sun or shade). This section also will advise whether the seeds should be started indoors prior to planting outdoors. The directions often also will contain basic directions for the care of the plant.

"It is a good idea to keep the seed package after planting the seeds as a reference for future care, harvesting and planting," Sánchez said. "The diversity of seeds is exciting because it offers gardeners virtually limitless planting combinations of flowers, fruits and vegetables to grow and enjoy."