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Nicotine withdrawal weakens brain connections tied to self-control over cigarette cravings
Date:3/12/2014

bout how they feel to an outward focus on the tasks at hand," said Lerman, who also serves as the Mary W. Calkins professor in the Department of Psychiatry. "It's very important for people who are trying to quit to be able to maintain activity within the control network to be able to shift from thinking about yourself and your inner state to focus on your more immediate goals and plan."

Prior studies have looked at the effects of nicotine on brain interconnectivity in the resting state, that is, in the absence of any specific goal directed activity. This is the first study, however, to compare resting brain connectivity in an abstinent state and when people are smoking as usual, and then relate those changes to symptoms of craving and mental performance.

For the study, researchers conducted brain scans on 37 healthy smokers (those who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day) ages 19 to 61 using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in two different sessions: 24 hours after biochemically confirmed abstinence and after smoking as usual.

Imaging showed a significantly weaker connectivity between the salience network and default mode network during abstinence, compared with their sated state. Also, weakened connectivity during abstinence was linked with increases in smoking urges, negative mood, and withdrawal symptoms, suggesting that this weaker internetwork connectivity may make it more difficult for people to quit.

Establishing the strength of the connectivity between these large-scale brain networks will be important in predicting people's ability to quit and stay quit, the authors write. Also, such connectivity could serve as a clinical biomarker to identify smokers who are most likely to respond to a particular treatment.

"Symptoms of withdrawal are related to changes in smokers' brains, as they adjust to being off of nicotine, and this study validates those experiences as having a biological basis," said Lerman. "T
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Contact: Steve Graff
stephen.graff@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5653
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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