In healthy individuals, food cues can trigger hunger and feeding behavior. Likewise, smoking cues can trigger craving and relapse in smokers. Brain imaging studies report that structures involved in appetitive behaviors and reward, notably the insula, striatum, amygdala and orbital frontal cortex, tend to be activated by both visual food and smoking cues. Here, by carrying out a meta-analysis of human neuro-imaging studies, we investigate the neural network activated by: 1) food versus neutral cues (14 studies, 142 foci) 2) smoking versus neutral cues (15 studies, 176 foci) 3) smoking versus neutral cues when correlated with craving scores (7 studies, 108 foci). PubMed was used to identify cue-reactivity imaging studies that compared brain response to visual food or smoking cues to neutral cues. Fourteen articles were identified for the food meta-analysis and fifteen articles were identified for the smoking meta-analysis. Six articles were identified for the smoking cue correlated with craving analysis. Meta-analyses were carried out using activation likelihood estimation. Food cues were associated with increased blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response in the left amygdala, bilateral insula, bilateral orbital frontal cortex, and striatum. Smoking cues were associated with increased BOLD signal in the same areas, with the exception of the insula. However, the smoking meta-analysis of brain maps correlating cue-reactivity with subjective craving did identify the insula, suggesting that insula activation is only found when craving levels are high. The brain areas identified here are involved in learning, memory and motivation, and their cue-induced activity is an index of the incentive salience of the cues. Using meta-analytic techniques to combine a series of studies, we found that food and smoking cues activate comparable brain networks. There is significant overlap in brain regions responding to conditioned cues associated with natural and drug rewards.
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