Cigarette smoking is a preventable risk factor for ischemic stroke. The mechanisms by which smoking contributes to stroke are poorly understood and the role of nicotine in this process is controversial. Although nicotine administered transdermally and orally does not appear to have as many associated health risks as do cigarettes, nicotine does have acute vasoactive and mitogenic effects on vascular tissues. Nicotine might alter the function of the blood-brain barrier and disrupt normal endothelial cell function. Some of the detrimental effects of nicotine are prevented by nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonists. However, recent studies indicate that nicotine might also interact with intracellular signaling pathways that are independent of acetylcholine receptors. In light of these recent developments, the impact of nicotine on cerebrovascular pathology should not be dismissed.
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