The P300 brain potential is reduced in smokers

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2000 May;149(4):409-13. doi: 10.1007/s002130000387.


Rationale: Tobacco smoking is the most prevalent type of substance abuse, yet its biobehavioral etiology is little understood. Identification of differences between smokers and non-smokers on basic characteristics of neurocognitive functioning may help to elucidate the mechanisms of tobacco dependence.

Objectives: This study assessed the relationship between smoking status and the P300 component of event-related potential (ERP) while controlling for potential confounders such as alcoholism, drug abuse, and psychopathology.

Methods: The ERP responses elicited by a visual oddball task were measured at the mid-parietal site in 905 current smokers, 463 ex-smokers, and 979 never smokers.

Results: P300 amplitude was significantly lower in current cigarette smokers compared to never-smokers. Ex-smokers did not differ significantly from never-smokers. P300 reduction was also associated with alcoholism, drug dependence, and family density of alcoholism. However, after controlling for smoking, only family density of alcoholism remained a significant predictor of P300 amplitude.

Conclusions: The results indicate a significant effect of smoking status on P300 amplitude which is additive to family history of alcoholism and suggest that either (1) long-term tobacco smoking may produce a reversible change in brain function, or (2) reduced P300 may be a marker of risk for nicotine dependence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / genetics
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / drug effects
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine