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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2011 May;98(3):376-84. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2011.01.015. Epub 2011 Jan 31.

Degree of dependence influences the effect of smoking on cognitive flexibility.

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Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, University of Brighton, Moulsecoomb, Brighton BN2 4GJ, UK.


Pre-frontal cortical (PFC) dysfunction has been put forward as the basis for development and maintenance of addiction. To explore this relationship, the present study investigated the effects of smoking on PFC-mediated cognitive flexibility and subjective states in low- (LD) and high-dependent (HD) smokers. Twenty-four LD and 24 HD smokers (Fagerström dependence scores ≤ 4 and ≥ 5, respectively) were randomly allocated to non-smoking or smoking condition (12 LD and 12 HD participants per condition). After abstaining from smoking for a minimum of two hours volunteers completed a battery of questionnaires [nicotine-specific Visual Analogue Scales (Nic-VAS), Questionnaire of Smoking Urges (QSU) and Profile of Mood States (POMS)] at baseline [T1] and again after smoking one cigarette or remaining abstinent [T2]. Cognitive flexibility was evaluated at T2 using the Intra-Extra Dimensional Set-Shift test. The Rapid Visual Information Processing test was performed as a control nicotine-sensitive task at several time points during the experiment. Compared to LD smokers, HD smokers had higher salivary cotinine and breath CO levels at baseline and reported more craving (QSU) and felt less stimulated (Nic-VAS), vigorous, friendly and elated (POMS) throughout the experiment. Smoking increased Nic-VAS ratings of 'Buzzed' and 'Dizzy' and decreased craving in all participants. Smoking selectively impaired cognitive flexibility in HD smokers since HD smokers allocated to the smoking condition made significantly more errors with the intra-dimensional set-shift than their counterparts in the abstinent condition. No effect of smoking on RVIP test was observed, most likely due to the practice effect which was significant in both groups of smokers. The practice effect, however, was more pronounced in LD smokers. This study demonstrates that PFC-mediated cognitive effects of smoking as well as subjective reports vary according to the degree of nicotine dependence.

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