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Brain connections could predict success in quitting smoking

May 13, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An analysis of smokers' magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans offers evidence that those who succeed in quitting might possess coordinated activity in the brain that can predict that positive outcome.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, found that among a group of 85 smokers, the 44 who had been able to remain quit for 10 weeks had better synchrony between the insula and somatosensory cortex parts of the brain (prior to quitting). The insula, located in the cerebral cortex, houses cravings, while the somatosensory cortex is related to motor control.

“There's a general agreement in the field that the insula is a key structure with respect to smoking and that we need to develop cessation interventions that specifically modulate insula function,” Joseph McClernon, PhD, senior author and an associate professor at Duke University, said in a May 13 news release. “But in what ways do we modulate it, and in whom? Our data provides some evidence on both of those fronts, and suggests that targeting connectivity between insula and somatosensory cortex could be a good strategy.”

Several previous studies have shown that the insula region is active at times when a smoker craves a cigarette.