The researchers were able to map an “addiction network” in the brain of long-term smokers who stopped smoking suddenly after a brain injury. The authors of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine, hope that the research findings can help combat nicotine addiction, as well as other types of addiction.
The scientists examined 129 patients with traumatic brain injury who smoked daily. More than half of them continued to smoke after the injury, but a quarter of them stopped tobacco immediately and said they did not need it anymore.
Those who lost the desire to smoke had damage in one of three regions: the dorsolateral cingulate cortex, the lateral prefrontal cortex, the insula, or other areas of the brain with strong connections to these three regions. This is what scientists consider the “addiction network.”
In contrast, the smoking cessation group had no damage in a fourth important region of this network: the medial prefrontal cortex. This brain region, located in the middle of the forehead, appears to have an inhibitory effect on activity in other brain parts of the network.
In another study, scientists found that the same type of brain damage is also linked to alcoholism. This appears to indicate a common web of addiction through these substances.
According to study author Juhu Gutsa, a neurologist at Finland’s University of Turku, the specific network provides a testable target for treatment attempts. “Some network nodes in the cerebral cortex can be accessed with non-invasive neuromodulation techniques,” Gutsa said.
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