- Smoking is a
hazard to health but many people are unable to stop smoking; a new study
has found that poor communication between certain parts of the brain is
- A research team
from the Medical University of South Carolina is developing a neurological
approach to smoking cessation
communication between key regions of the brain would help people quit
is a habit that is hard to quit but a new
study has found that people are more likely to quit if there is a
strong communication between regions of the brain that are
associated with inhibiting and executing automated behavior. This study
published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry
was conducted by scientists
from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
An addiction scientist, Dr. Brett
Froeliger, has been studying smoking behavior for a long time and stated that
the act of smoking becomes an automated behavior over a period of time. The
scientist from the MUSC Department of Neuroscience and Hollings Cancer Center
who is also the first author of the study further added that the need to smoke
starts the same way as placing a foot forward to press the accelerator pedal in
a car when the traffic signal turns green. When a smoker smokes a pack of
cigarettes every day for many years, it results in the whole process becoming
automatic, or second nature.
‘A neurological approach to smoking cessation would prove effective.’
Inhibition of Automated Control
behavior is blocked or reversed by the brain via the inhibitory control
network. This pathway begins in the inferior frontal gyrus on the right and
travels to the thalamus through the pre-frontal cortex. The scientists decided
to investigate if this pathway was involved in the ability to quit smoking.
The study involved 81 adults who were nicotine addicted and attempted to quit smoking
for a period of 10 weeks. Prior to the start of the study, the participants
were made to undergo a functional MRI test that was used to monitor brain
activity when the participants were made to perform an assignment of inhibitory
control. In the assignment, the participants were asked to press a key on the
computer keyboard every time specific colored circles were flashed on the
computer screen. When circles of certain other colors were shown on screen, the
participants should refrain from pressing the key. The study findings showed that
- There was an
increased Blood Oxygenation Level-Dependent (BOLD) response in the
inhibitory control circuit.
- This showed there
was added effort and resources involved in preventing the automatic
response of pressing the key during the rare times when a circle of a
certain color was shown on the screen.
- Smokers who had
lower BOLD responses in their inhibitory control networks quit smoking
after 10 weeks.
participants had particularly lower BOLD responses in the right inferior
frontal gyrus and right thalamus.
- There were
stronger functional responses across the two regions of the brain.
- There were
participants who resumed smoking after quitting, and they had scored
similar to those who completely quit. These people may have required
additional effort to break away from their automated behavior.
order to identify if the same response occurred among smokers who did not
commit to quitting, Froeliger decided to pay the smokers to quit for an hour.
The same task was carried out among 26 smokers and their BOLD measurements were
was a small twist that was included in this part of the study. Every
participant was given a pack of preferred brand of cigarettes, an ash tray as
well as a lighter. For every 6 minutes that the smoker did not smoke, the
smoker was paid a dollar; the total study time was one hour. The money was a
reward or an incentive that was provided to prevent the smoker from yielding to
study results showed that
- When the BOLD
responses were low while carrying out the inhibitory control task, the
greater the resistance offered by the participant to quit smoking.
- There were
greater functional connections in the inhibitory control networks of
people who resisted temptation.
is the first study that has found an association between regions of the brain
that inhibit automated behavior and a person's
ability to quit smoking.
study aids in understanding the mechanisms that are involved in smoking
cessation. The findings of the study will help in providing smokers with the
necessary support that would encourage cessation. Froeliger and his team are
now trying to identify interventional strategies like therapy and the use of
medications which will help improve communication between the various crucial
regions of the brain. The difference in the biology between people has been
shown to contribute to their ability to quit smoking; understanding the differences
and increasing factors that would encourage cessation could play a key role in
arresting this addictive behavior. The neurological mechanisms that are
important for learning new behaviors and for preventing habits from becoming
automatic, like smoking, would provide landmark insights into understanding the
complex world of behavioral studies.
Nicotine in Cigarettes
stimulate the central nervous system and are found to affect various
neurotransmitters like gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), acetylcholine, dopamine
. There are more than 600
chemicals that have been identified in cigarettes, out of which 100 exert
pharmacological effects on the human body. Studies have shown that the nicotine
present in cigarettes reaches the brain in 8 seconds after it is inhaled into
the lungs. As nicotine resembles acetylcholine, it could act as one and lead to
manipulation of muscle movement, respiration, memory and other functions.
there are many adverse effects to health that are associated with smoking
cigarettes, many people find it hard to quit. Unlike illicit drugs, cigarette
smoking is carried out publicly, thus forming a habit easily. There are many
support groups and clinics that are dedicated to helping people overcome the
habit of smoking; unfortunately, either people are not successful or even if
they are, they restart the habit after a period of time.
current study that has brought to the fore a dependence on strong
communications between certain parts of the brain could be used to develop
interventional strategies that target this association. This would aid in
assisting people to quit smoking and to lead healthier lives.
- Neuroscience and Smoking's Impact on the Brain - (https://quitday.org/quitting-effects/neuroscience-brain/)
- What Happens When You Quit Smoking? - (https://quitsmokingcommunity.org/how-to-quit-smoking/what-happens-when-you-quit-smoking/)