Introduction: Nicotine dependence (ND) is a chronic, relapsing mental disorder characterized by compulsive cigarette seeking and smoking. Although the cerebellum plays an increasingly implicated role in ND, the exact cerebellar alterations in ND remain unclear. Identifying the localization of these cerebellar abnormalities in ND may help to further understand the role of the cerebellum in ND. Thus, we investigated the structural and functional alterations in the cerebellum in a large sample of smokers using the spatially unbiased infratentorial template (SUIT).
Methods: High-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data were acquired from 85 smokers and 41 nonsmokers. We applied voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and the SUIT cerebellar atlas to compare the cerebellar gray matter (GM) volume between smokers and nonsmokers. Using resting-state functional MRI data, we also performed seed-based functional connectivity (FC) analysis to examine the functional correlates of the GM volume changes.
Results: Both VBM and lobular analyses revealed smaller GM volume in the bilateral Crus I in smokers. The GM volume of the left Crus I was inversely correlated with the severity of nicotine dependence as assessed by Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence (r = -.268, p = .013). We also found reduced FC between the bilateral Crus I and brain regions involved in the default mode network and motor system, as well as the frontal and temporal cortex in smokers.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that decreased cerebellar GM volume and corticocerebellar FC are associated with ND, and these may underlie the core ND phenotypes, including automatized smoking behavior, cognitive, and emotional deficits.
Implications: As smoking remains a worldwide public health problem, identifying the related neural alterations may help to understand the pathophysiology of ND. Based on previous findings in the cerebellum, we investigated the localization of the GM differences and related FC changes in ND subjects. Our findings highlight altered corticocerebellar circuits in ND, suggesting an association between the cerebellum and the phenotypes of ND.