Effects of expectancy and abstinence on the neural response to smoking cues in cigarette smokers: an fMRI study

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2006 Dec;31(12):2728-38. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301075. Epub 2006 Apr 5.


Cues associated with drug taking can trigger relapse, drug seeking, and craving in addicted individuals. Behavioral studies suggest that drug availability and withdrawal can affect the individual response to drug cues. Moreover, the importance of subjective craving in cue-induced relapse has been questioned and an alternative model put forward according to which drug cues trigger habitual drug-seeking behaviors independently of craving. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain response to smoking and control videotapes in 20 healthy smokers, while varying their expectancy to smoke and abstinence levels. The neural response to cigarette cues was strongly modulated by expectancy and, to a lesser extent, abstinence. In people expecting to smoke immediately after the scan, smoking cues activated brain areas implicated in arousal, attention, and cognitive control. However, when subjects knew they would not be allowed to smoke for 4 h, there was almost no brain activation in response to smoking cues, despite equivalent reported levels of craving. In the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the neural response was a function of both craving and expectancy. Thalamo-cingulate connectivity, thought to be an index of arousal, was greater during expectancy than nonexpectancy. Our findings confirm the importance of expectancy in the neural response to drug cues, and lend support to the theory that these cues act on brain areas involved in arousal and attention.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / drug effects
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nicotine / adverse effects
  • Nicotinic Agonists / adverse effects
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Reward*
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology*


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine