Background: Studying the neural consequences of tobacco smoking during adolescence, including those associated with early light use, may help expose the mechanisms that underlie the transition from initial use to nicotine dependence in adulthood. However, only a few studies in adolescents exist, and they include small samples. In addition, the neural mechanism, if one exists, that links nicotinic receptor genes to smoking behavior in adolescents is still unknown.
Methods: Structural and diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging data were acquired from a large sample of 14-year-old adolescents who completed an extensive battery of neuropsychological, clinical, personality, and drug-use assessments. Additional assessments were conducted at 16 years of age.
Results: Exposure to smoking in adolescents, even at low doses, is linked to volume changes in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and to altered neuronal connectivity in the corpus callosum. The longitudinal analyses strongly suggest that these effects are not preexisting conditions in those who progress to smoking. There was a genetic contribution wherein the volume reduction effects were magnified in smokers who were carriers of the high-risk genotype of the alpha 5 nicotinic receptor subunit gene, rs16969968.
Conclusions: These findings give insight into a mechanism involving genes, brain structure, and connectivity underlying why some adolescents find nicotine especially addictive.
Keywords: Adolescents; Genetics; Gray matter volume; Low smoking exposure; Neuroimaging; fMRI.
Published by Elsevier Inc.