Some May Be 'Hardwired' for Quit-Smoking Success

Finding could provide new target for cessation treatments, researchers say

From the WebMD Archives

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 13, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The brains of smokers who manage to quit may be "hardwired" for success, a new study suggests.

The study included 85 smokers who underwent MRI scans of their brains one month before they tried to stop smoking. All of the participants stopped smoking and were followed for 10 weeks. During that time, 41 of them started smoking again.

The researchers from Duke University School of Medicine found that those who successfully quit smoking had greater connectivity among certain brain regions than those who started smoking again.

The higher level of connectivity was between the insula -- the source of urges and cravings -- and the somatosensory cortex, which is important for motor control and sense of touch.

"Simply put, the insula is sending messages to other parts of the brain that then make the decision to pick up a cigarette or not," said study author and assistant professor Merideth Addicott in a Duke news release.

Previous research has shown that the insula is active when smokers crave cigarettes, and that smokers who suffer damage to the insula lose interest in smoking.

"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," study senior author Joseph McClernon, an associate professor at Duke, said in the news release.

It's known that neurofeedback and transcranial magnetic stimulation -- used to treat depression -- can modulate brain activity.

"We have provided a blueprint [for smoking cessation treatment]," McClernon said. "If we can increase connectivity in smokers to look more like those who quit successfully, that would be a place to start. We also need more research to understand what it is exactly about greater connectivity between these regions that increases the odds of success."

The study was published May 13 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.