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Prefrontal Cortex May Explain Why Some Can't Quit Smoking

First Posted: Dec 03, 2014 01:55 PM EST

Some may be more successful at quitting smoking than others, according to recent findings published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. And a lot of that has to do with the brain. 

With the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers studied the neural activity of 80 smokers seeking treatment. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 65, who reported smoking more than 10 cigarettes a day for more than six months.

Participants were required to undergo an MRI immediately after smoking and another following 24 hours after they had smoked. Afterward, the study authors observed their behavior seven days after they began trying to abstain from smoking.

Findings revealed that most of the participants relapsed within the first seven days. The scans showed that participants who showed a decrease in activity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or the working memory center of the brain were those most likely to relapse. These same individuals also showed increase activity in the posterior cingulate cortex region of the brain that was unrelated to goal achievement.

"This provides another important piece of evidence ... that this region in the prefrontal cortex is important in quitting smoking," said Caryn Lerman, a professor of psychiatry at Penn Medicine, via Fox News. "So if we can apply treatments that will help increase activity in that part of the brain, [our research] suggests those new treatments will be successful in helping people quit."

In the future, researchers hope that these could be useful for creating new models of predictive tests and targeted treatments. However, they added that it is not economically feasible to commonly adopt fMRI to help predict smoking behaviors.

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