Damage to Part of the Brain May Aid Smoking Cessation

March 1, 2007

Damage to part of the brain may cause persons addicted to nicotine to "forget" to smoke, a recent press release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) claims. Preliminary research showed that smokers may find it easier to quit after suffering damage to the insula.

Damage to part of the brain may causepersons addicted to nicotine to "forget"to smoke, a recent press release fromthe National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA) claims. Preliminary researchshowed that smokers may find it easierto quit after suffering damage to theinsula.

In the study, 13 of 19 smokers whohad experienced brain damage resultingin lesions on the insula quit smoking.Only 19 out of 50 smokers withbrain injuries not affecting the insulaquit smoking.

The smokers who experiencedgreater ease in quitting were identifiedbased on 4 behavioral criteria: thosewho reported quitting smoking lessthan 1 day after the brain injury, thosewho reported that difficulty of quittingwas less than 3 on a scale of 1 to 7,those who reported that they did notsmoke after quitting, and those who reportedno urge to smoke after quitting.Twelve of 13 participants with damageto their insula who quit smoking metthese criteria, compared with only 4 of19 participants without insula damagewho quit smoking.

Dr Antoine Bechara of the Universityof Southern California, lead authorof the study, which was published inthe January 26, 2007, issue of Science,explained that the insula "plays a rolein the desire to smoke by anticipatingphysical effects brought on by emotionssuch as those induced by environmentalcues. Thus, damage to theinsula could lead smokers to feel thattheir bodies have 'forgotten' the urgeto smoke."

Dr Nora Volkow, director of NIDA,emphasized the importance of thesefindings. "While additional research isneeded to replicate these findings, thecurrent study suggests that damage tothe insula can impact the conscious'urge' to smoke, making it easier forsmokers to quit and remain abstinent,"she said. "Medications that target receptorswithin the insula may offerpromise in developing more effectivesmoking cessation therapies in thefuture."