Functional Connectivity During Exposure to Favorite-Food, Stress, and Neutral-Relaxing Imagery Differs Between Smokers and Nonsmokers

Nicotine Tob Res. 2016 Sep;18(9):1820-9. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntw088. Epub 2016 Mar 19.


Introduction: Tobacco-use disorder is a complex condition involving multiple brain networks and presenting with multiple behavioral correlates including changes in diet and stress. In a previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of neural responses to favorite-food, stress, and neutral-relaxing imagery, smokers versus nonsmokers demonstrated blunted corticostriatal-limbic responses to favorite-food cues. Based on other recent reports of alterations in functional brain networks in smokers, the current study examined functional connectivity during exposure to favorite-food, stress, and neutral-relaxing imagery in smokers and nonsmokers, using the same dataset.

Methods: The intrinsic connectivity distribution was measured to identify brain regions that differed in degree of functional connectivity between groups during each imagery condition. Resulting clusters were evaluated for seed-to-voxel connectivity to identify the specific connections that differed between groups during each imagery condition.

Results: During exposure to favorite-food imagery, smokers versus nonsmokers showed lower connectivity in the supramarginal gyrus, and differences in connectivity between the supramarginal gyrus and the corticostriatal-limbic system. During exposure to neutral-relaxing imagery, smokers versus nonsmokers showed greater connectivity in the precuneus, and greater connectivity between the precuneus and the posterior insula and rolandic operculum. During exposure to stress imagery, smokers versus nonsmokers showed lower connectivity in the cerebellum.

Conclusions: These findings provide data-driven insights into smoking-related alterations in brain functional connectivity patterns related to appetitive, relaxing, and stressful states.

Implications: This study uses a data-driven approach to demonstrate that smokers and nonsmokers show differential patterns of functional connectivity during guided imagery related to personalized favorite-food, stress, and neutral-relaxing cues, in brain regions implicated in attention, reward-related, emotional, and motivational processes. For smokers, these differences in connectivity may impact appetite, stress, and relaxation, and may interfere with smoking cessation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Relaxation*
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / prevention & control