Cigarette craving modulation is more feasible than resistance modulation for heavy cigarette smokers: empirical evidence from functional MRI data

Neuroreport. 2021 Jun 9;32(9):762-770. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000001653.


Background: Modulation of cigarette craving and neuronal activations from nicotine-dependent cigarette smokers using real-time functional MRI (rtfMRI)-based neurofeedback (rtfMRI-NF) has been previously reported.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of rtfMRI-NF training in reducing cigarette cravings using fMRI data acquired before and after training.

Methods: Treatment-seeking male heavy cigarette smokers (N = 14) were enrolled and randomly assigned to two conditions related to rtfMRI-NF training aiming at resisting the urge to smoke. In one condition, subjects underwent conventional rtfMRI-NF training using neuronal activity as the neurofeedback signal (activity-based) within regions-of-interest (ROIs) implicated in cigarette craving. In another condition, subjects underwent rtfMRI-NF training with additional functional connectivity information included in the neurofeedback signal (functional connectivity-added). Before and after rtfMRI-NF training at each of two visits, participants underwent two fMRI runs with cigarette smoking stimuli and were asked to crave or resist the urge to smoke without neurofeedback. Cigarette craving-related or resistance-related regions were identified using a general linear model followed by paired t-tests and were evaluated using regression analysis on the basis of neuronal activation and subjective craving scores (CRSs).

Results: Visual areas were mainly implicated in craving, whereas the superior frontal areas were associated with resistance. The degree of (a) CRS reduction and (b) the correlation between neuronal activation and CRSs were statistically significant (P < 0.05) in the functional connectivity-added neurofeedback group for craving-related ROIs.

Conclusion: Our study demonstrated the feasibility of altering cigarette craving in craving-related ROIs but not in resistance-related ROIs via rtfMRI-NF training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't