Greater regional brain atrophy rate in healthy elderly subjects with a history of cigarette smoking

Alzheimers Dement. 2012 Nov;8(6):513-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2011.10.006.


Background: Little is known about the effects of cigarette smoking on longitudinal brain morphological changes in the elderly. This study investigated the effects of a history of cigarette smoking on changes in regional brain volumes over 2 years in healthy, cognitively intact elderly individuals. We predicted that individuals with a history of cigarette smoking, compared with never smokers, demonstrate greater rate of atrophy over 2 years in regions that manifest morphological abnormalities in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD), as well as in the extended brain reward/executive oversight system (BREOS), which is implicated in the development and maintenance of substance use disorders.

Methods: Participants were healthy, cognitively normal elderly control subjects (75.9 ± 4.8 years of age) with any lifetime history of cigarette smoking (n = 68) or no history of smoking (n = 118). Data were obtained through the Alzheimer Disease Neuroimaging Initiative from 2005 to 2010. Participants completed four magnetic resonance scans over 2 years. A standardized protocol using high-resolution three-dimensional T1-weighted sequences at 1.5 T was used for structural imaging and regional brain volumetric analyses.

Results: Smokers demonstrated a significantly greater atrophy rate over 2 years than nonsmokers in multiple brain regions associated with the early stages of AD, as well as in the BREOS system. Groups did not differ on the rate of global cortical atrophy.

Conclusions: A history of cigarette smoking in this healthy elderly cohort was associated with decreased structural integrity of multiple brain regions, which manifested as a greater rate of atrophy over 2 years in regions specifically affected by incipient AD as well as chronic substance abuse.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Smoking / adverse effects*