Background: Most tobacco smokers who wish to quit fail to reach their goal. One important, insufficiently emphasized aspect of addiction relates to the decision-making system, often characterized by dysfunctional cognitive control and a powerful drive for reward. Recent proof-of-principle studies indicate that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) can transiently modulate processes involved in decision-making, and reduce substance intake and craving for various addictions. We previously proposed that this beneficial effect of stimulation for reducing addictive behaviors is in part mediated by more reflective decision-making. The goal of this study was to test whether nicotine intake and decision-making behaviors are modulated by tDCS over the DLPFC in tobacco smokers who wished to quit smoking.
Methods: Subjects received two five-day tDCS regimens (active or sham). Stimulation was delivered over the right DLPFC at a 2 mA during 30 min. Nicotine cravings, cigarette consumption and decision-making were assessed before and after each session.
Results: Main findings include a significant decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked when participants received active as compared to sham stimulation. This effect lasted up to four days after the end of the stimulation regimen. In regards to decision-making, smokers rejected more often offers of cigarettes, but not offers of money, after they received active as compared to sham stimulation at the Ultimatum Game. No significant change was observed at the Risk Task with cigarettes or money as rewards.
Conclusion: Overall, these findings suggest that tDCS over the DLPFC may be beneficial for smoking reduction and induce reward sensitive effects.
Keywords: Addiction; Decision-making; Noninvasive brain stimulation; Tobacco.
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