Adolescent Addiction Centers Light Up on Cue

By Beck, Debra L. | Clinical Psychiatry News, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Adolescent Addiction Centers Light Up on Cue


Beck, Debra L., Clinical Psychiatry News


TORONTO -- Functional magnetic resonance imaging has shown that even very low levels of nicotine exposure can cause detectable changes in the adolescent brain's addiction centers, some of which differ from nicotine-related changes seen in adult brains, a study showed.

Previous research has also revealed differences in the effects of smoking on adolescents, compared with adults, Dr. Mark L. Rubinstein of the University of California, San Francisco, said at the meeting.

"We know that people who start smoking as teenagers are more likely to become lifelong smokers than those who start smoking as adults. In addition, teens seem to be more susceptible to nicotine addiction, reporting addiction with much lower levels of smoking--sometimes even without smoking daily."

Pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation is also less effective in teens than in adults. The current research aimed to discover underlying brain effects that might account for these differences.

In adult smokers, functional MRI has shown that both nicotine and smoking cues produce activity in the mesolimbic addiction system, specifically in the amygdala, the orbital frontal complex, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. Previous studies of heavy smokers in their teens found similar results. However, because the majority of adolescents smoke only two to five cigarettes per day, Dr. Rubinstein's research used 12 light smokers (one to five cigarettes per day [mean 3.6] for at least 6 months) aged 13-17, along with 12 smoking-naive adolescents of the same age as controls.

"We wondered if this might give us a better indication of the way adolescent brains work, and also a better idea of how early addiction processes work in the brain," he said.

Because cue exposure has the same effects on brain activity as actual nicotine, participants passively viewed a set of smoking-related images, then a set of neutral images, with process repeated eight times.

Functional analysis of their brains during this process found that nonsmokers showed no brain activation in any area. …

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