Investigating the neural correlates of smoking: Feasibility and results of combining electronic cigarettes with fMRI.
Wall MB., Mentink A., Lyons G., Kowalczyk OS., Demetriou L., Newbould RD.
Cigarette addiction is driven partly by the physiological effects of nicotine, but also by the distinctive sensory and behavioural aspects of smoking, and understanding the neural effects of such processes is vital. There are many practical difficulties associated with subjects smoking in the modern neuroscientific laboratory environment, however electronic cigarettes obviate many of these issues, and provide a close simulation of smoking tobacco cigarettes. We have examined the neural effects of 'smoking' electronic cigarettes with concurrent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The results demonstrate the feasibility of using these devices in the MRI environment, and show brain activation in a network of cortical (motor cortex, insula, cingulate, amygdala) and sub-cortical (putamen, thalamus, globus pallidus, cerebellum) regions. Concomitant relative deactivations were seen in the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex. These results reveal the brain processes involved in (simulated) smoking for the first time, and validate a novel approach to the study of smoking, and addiction more generally.