In functional brain imaging studies, exposure to cues related to cocaine, opiates, and alcohol in dependent individuals is associated with activation of the anterior cingulate gyrus, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Craving for these substances positively correlates with activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula. The objective of this study was to determine changes in regional cerebral glucose metabolism and correlations between craving and regional metabolism in heavy cigarette smokers exposed to cigarette-related cues.
Twenty heavy smokers (who smoked ≥20 cigarettes per day) and 20 nonsmoking control subjects underwent 2 fluorine 18–fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography scans 10 days apart in randomized order: one while watching a videotape that presented cigarette-related cues and handling a cigarette, and the other while watching an educational (nature) videotape and handling a neutral object (pen).
From the neutral to the cigarette cue scan, heavy smokers had greater increases than nonsmoking controls in relative glucose metabolism in the perigenual anterior cingulate gyrus spanning the midline. Significant positive correlations were found between intensity of craving and metabolism in the orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula bilaterally. An unexpected positive association was found between craving and metabolism in the right sensorimotor cortex.
Brain regions associated with arousal, compulsive repetitive behaviors, sensory integration, and episodic memory are activated during exposure to cigarette-related cues and cigarette craving. These regional brain activations and associations with craving are similar to findings with other addictive substances.