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Neuroimaging Predicts Cigarette Craving

Changes in cerebral blood flow identified with cigarette craving after abstinence

MONDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- MRI of smokers' brains shows that abstinence-produced cravings are associated with increased activity in areas related to attention, behavioral control, memory and reward, according to a report in the Dec. 19 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Ze Wang, Ph.D., and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, scanned 15 chronic smokers, once in a state of smoking satiety and again after a period of overnight abstinence lasting between 12 and 14 hours. Arterial spin labeled perfusion MRI was used to examine changes in regional blood flow during waking and resting states.

Abstinence was associated with significant regional blood flow increases in the anterior cingulate cortex (the most inferior part) and medial orbitofrontal cortex. Hyperperfusion associated with abstinence-induced craving was found in regions linked with learning and memory processes (amygdala, hippocampus) and in those involved in attention and behavior control (anterior cingulate cortex and orbitofrontal cortex).

The authors conclude, "These data suggest that increased activation in the brain's visuospatial and reward circuitry underlies abstinence-induced cravings to smoke, and thereby, may be important in relapse."

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