The hedonic response to cigarette smoking is proportional to dopamine release in the human striatum as measured by positron emission tomography and [11C]raclopride

Synapse. 2004 Nov;54(2):65-71. doi: 10.1002/syn.20066.


Positron emission tomography and [11C]raclopride were used to assess the dopaminergic response to cigarette smoking in ten smokers. Nicotine-deprived smokers were scanned twice on separate days. In one condition, participants smoked their usual brand of cigarettes while in the scanner and in the other condition they remained nicotine abstinent. On each day, subjects monitored the hedonic properties of their experience as well as their levels of craving. Initial analyses revealed no significant differences between the conditions in [11C]raclopride binding potential (BP) in the caudate, putamen, or ventral striatum. Because previous research suggested that drug-induced dopamine transmission is related to levels of craving and/or hedonic drug effects, the relationship between these variables and [11C]raclopride BP was examined. Craving levels were reduced by smoking but were not systematically related to BP change. However, the hedonic response to smoking was correlated with BP reduction in the caudate (P < 0.001) and posterior putamen (P < 0.05) but not in the ventral striatum. Post hoc analyses revealed that only five of the ten smokers reported mood-elevating effects in response to the smoking procedure. In these subjects, smoking was associated with decreased [11C]raclopride BP in the caudate. On the other hand, among subjects that reported a diminished mood response to smoking there was an increase in BP in the caudate and putamen. These results suggest that pleasurable drug experiences are associated with increased dopamine transmission in the dorsal striatum while unpleasant experiences may be related to decreased dopamine release in this region.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Carbon Isotopes / pharmacokinetics
  • Corpus Striatum / anatomy & histology
  • Corpus Striatum / diagnostic imaging
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacokinetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Raclopride / pharmacokinetics*
  • Smoking / metabolism*
  • Smoking / psychology


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Raclopride
  • Dopamine