Limbic activation to cigarette smoking cues independent of nicotine withdrawal: a perfusion fMRI study

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2007 Nov;32(11):2301-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301371. Epub 2007 Mar 21.


Exposure to cigarette smoking cues can trigger physiological arousal and desire to smoke. The brain substrates of smoking cue-induced craving (CIC) are beginning to be elucidated; however, it has been difficult to study this state independent of the potential contributions of pharmacological withdrawal from nicotine. Pharmacological withdrawal itself may have substantial effects on brain activation to cues, either by obscuring or enhancing it, and as CIC is not reduced by nicotine replacement strategies, its neuro-anatomical substrates may differ. Thus, characterizing CIC is critical for developing effective interventions. This study used arterial spin-labeled (ASL) perfusion fMRI, and newly developed and highly appetitive, explicit smoking stimuli, to examine neural activity to cigarette CIC in an original experimental design that strongly minimizes contributions from pharmacological withdrawal. Twenty-one smokers (12 females) completed smoking and nonsmoking cue fMRI sessions. Craving self-reports were collected before and after each session. SPM2 software was employed to analyze data. Blood flow (perfusion) in a priori-selected regions was greater during exposure to smoking stimuli compared to nonsmoking stimuli (p<0.01; corrected) in ventral striatum, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, hippocampus, medial thalamus, and left insula. Perfusion positively correlated with intensity of cigarette CIC in both the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (r2=0.54) and posterior cingulate (r2=0.53). This pattern of activation that includes the ventral striatum, a critical reward substrate, and the interconnected amygdala, cingulate and OFC, is consistent with decades of animal research on the neural correlates of conditioned drug reward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Limbic System / blood supply*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine / adverse effects*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / psychology


  • Nicotine
  • Oxygen