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Tobacco smoking impacts teens' brains, UCLA study shows
Date:3/2/2011

Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S., with more than 400,000 deaths each year attributable to smoking or its consequences. And yet teens still smoke. Indeed, smoking usually begins in the teen years, and approximately 80 percent of adult smokers became hooked by the time they were 18. Meanwhile, teens who don't take up smoking usually never do.

While studies have linked cigarette smoking to deficits in attention and memory in adults, UCLA researchers wanted to compare brain function in adolescent smokers and non-smokers, with a focus on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that guides "executive functions" like decision-making and that is still developing structurally and functionally in adolescents.

They found a disturbing correlation: The greater a teen's addiction to nicotine, the less active the prefrontal cortex was, suggesting that smoking can affect brain function.

The research appears in the current online edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

The finding is obviously not good news for smokers, said the study's senior author, Edythe London, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

"As the prefrontal cortex continues to develop during the critical period of adolescence, smoking may influence the trajectory of brain development and affect the function of the prefrontal cortex," London said.

In the study, 25 smokers and 25 non-smokers between the ages of 15 to 21 were asked to perform a test that activated the prefrontal cortex and required them to inhibit responding.

The test, called the Stop-Signal Task (SST), was done while the participants were undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The Stop-Signal Task involves pressing a button as quickly as possible every time a lighted arrow appears unless an auditory tone is played, in which case the part
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Contact: Mark Wheeler
mwheeler@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2265
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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