Area in Brain Key to Quit Smoking?
Damage to Specific Brain Area Banishes Smoking Addiction Urge, Study Shows
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 16, 2007 -- A stroke patient who quit smoking because his "body
forgot the urge to smoke" may hold the key that unlocks the chains of
That key appears to be a region on the right and left sides of the brain
called the insula.
The insula is thought to control conscious urges. One study showed that drug
addicts who relapse have high-level insula activity during decision-making
"What happens to addictions when there's damage to the insula?"
wondered Antoine Bechara, PhD, of the universities of Southern California
To find out, Bechara, along with Hanna Damasio of USC and other colleagues,
compared people who quit smoking after injury to the insula with those who quit
after suffering brain damage that did not include the insula. Not all of the
patients had strokes.
Twelve of 13 patients with damage to the insula quit smoking soon after
their brain damage, never started smoking again, found it easy to quit, and,
after quitting, never again felt the urge to smoke. In other words, they lost
their smoking addiction.
Loss of smoking addiction occurred in only four of 19 patients without
The experience of the patient who said his body forgot the urge to smoke
"suggests that the insula plays a role in the feeling that smoking is a
bodily need," Bechara and colleagues conclude.
None of the insula-damaged patients who lost their smoking addiction lost
their desire for food or ate less.
This suggests that insula damage does not make a person lose fundamental
urges. Instead, the researchers suggest, insula damage affects only
This means the insula may also control other kinds of addiction.
Brain surgery isn't a solution to cigarette smoking or other addictions.
But, Bechara says, the insula could be a target for new drug treatments.
"There is a lot of potential for pharmacological developments," he
says in a news release.
Bechara and colleagues report their findings in the Jan. 26 issue of