Smoking and structural brain deficits: a volumetric MR investigation

Eur J Neurosci. 2006 Sep;24(6):1744-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2006.05050.x.


Growing evidence from animal studies indicates brain-damaging properties of nicotine exposure. Investigations in humans found a wide range of functional cerebral effects of nicotine and cigarette smoking, but studies focusing on brain damage are sparse. In 22 smokers and 23 never-smokers possible differences of the cerebral structures were investigated using magnetic resonance imaging and voxel-based morphometry. Significantly smaller grey matter volume and lower grey matter density (P = 0.05, corrected) were observed in the frontal regions (anterior cingulate, prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex), the occipital lobe and the temporal lobe including parahippocampal gyrus, in smokers than in never-smokers. Group differences of either grey matter volume or grey matter density were also found in the thalamus, cerebellum and substantia nigra, among other regions. Smokers did not show greater volumes than never-smokers in any cerebral region. Magnitude of lifetime exposure to tobacco smoke (pack-years) was inversely correlated with volume of frontal and temporal lobes and cerebellum (P = 0.001, uncorrected). The data indicate structural deficits of several cortical and subcortical regions in smokers relative to never-smokers. The topographic profile of the group differences show some similarities to brain networks known to mediate drug reinforcement, attention and working memory processing. The present findings may explain in part the frequently reported cognitive dysfunctions in chronic cigarette consumers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Smoking / pathology*