Brain MRI May Predict Smokers’ Success at Quitting

December 10, 2014
Diagnostic Imaging Staff

Magnetic resonance imaging has shown changes in the brain among smokers who relapsed within seven days of quitting.

Magnetic resonance imaging may detect specific brain activity in former smokers that predicts their chances of relapsing, according to a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia performed a study to examine whether working memory-related brain signal predicts relapse to smoking.

Eighty treatment-seeking smokers (10 cigarettes per day for six months or longer), aged from 18 to 65, participated in the study. They each completed two fMRI sessions (smoking satiety versus 24-hour abstinence challenge) during performance of a visual N-back task. One to two weeks following the imaging, the participants then took part in a one-hour standardized counseling session, which covered quitting strategies. The participants also chose a target quitting date, when they returned for a brief 20-minute counseling session.

Relapse during the first seven days was biochemically confirmed by the presence of the nicotine metabolite cotinine. Sixty-one smokers relapsed and 19 quit successfully for this period.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"30198","attributes":{"alt":"Caryn Lerman, PhD, senior author","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_3286763014521","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"3154","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 215px; width: 160px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"Caryn Lerman, PhD, senior author","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

The researchers found that those who relapsed had decreased activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, compared to those who quit. Those who relapsed also had reduced suppression of activation in the posterior cingulate cortex.

"This is the first time abstinence-induced changes in the working memory have been shown to accurately predict relapse in smokers," senior author Caryn Lerman, PhD, professor of psychiatry and director of Penn's Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction, said in a release.

The neural response to quitting may make possible new and existing personalized intervention strategies for smokers, the researchers concluded.