Neuroadaptive changes associated with smoking: structural and functional neural changes in nicotine dependence

Brain Sci. 2013 Feb 15;3(1):159-76. doi: 10.3390/brainsci3010159.


Tobacco smoking is the most frequent form of substance abuse. We provide a review of the neuroadaptive changes evidenced in human smokers with regard to the current neurobiological models of addiction. Addiction is thought to result from an interplay between positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcing effects of the drugs are mediated by striatal dopamine release, while negative reinforcement involves the relief of withdrawal symptoms and neurobiological stress systems. In addition, drug-related stimuli are attributed with excessive motivational value and are thought to exert a control on the behavior. This mechanism plays a central role in drug maintenance and relapse. Further neuroadaptive changes associated with chronic use of the drug consist of reduced responses to natural rewards and in the activation of an antireward system, related to neurobiological stress systems. Reduced inhibitory cognitive control is believed to support the development and the maintenance of addiction. The findings observed in human nicotine dependence are generally in line with these models. The current state of the research indicates specific neuroadaptive changes associated with nicotine addiction that need to be further elucidated with regard to their role in the treatment of nicotine dependence.