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.