Neural basis of smoking-induced relief of craving and negative affect: Contribution of nicotine

Academic Article


  • Smoking-induced relief of craving and withdrawal promotes continued cigarette use. Understanding how relief is produced and the role of nicotine in this process may facilitate development of new smoking-cessation therapies. As the US Food and Drug Administration considers setting a standard for reduced nicotine content in cigarettes to improve public health, knowledge of how nicotine contributes to relief also can inform policy. We assessed effects of nicotine using resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and behavioral assessments of craving and negative affect. Twenty-one young (18–25 years old) daily smokers underwent overnight abstinence on 4 days. On each of the following mornings, they self-rated their cigarette craving and negative affect and underwent resting-state functional MRI (fMRI) before and after smoking a cigarette that delivered 0.027, 0.110, 0.231, or 0.763 mg of nicotine. Functional connectivity between the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and between the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) was assessed. Smoking reduced craving, negative affect, and nucleus accumbens-OFC connectivity irrespective of nicotine dose, with positive correlations of the effects on behavioral and connectivity measures. Only the highest nicotine dose (0.763 mg) reduced right anterior insula-ACC connectivity; this reduction was positively correlated with the behavioral effects of the 0.763-mg dose only. While nicotine-based therapies may act on right anterior insula-ACC functional circuits to facilitate smoking cessation, non-nicotine (eg, the conditioned and sensorimotor) aspects of smoking may promote cessation by reducing OFC-accumbens connectivity to alleviate withdrawal.
  • Published In

  • Addiction Biology  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Faulkner P; Ghahremani DG; Tyndale RF; Paterson NE; Cox C; Ginder N; Hellemann G; London ED
  • Start Page

  • 1087
  • End Page

  • 1095
  • Volume

  • 24
  • Issue

  • 5