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Addict Biol. 2015 Mar;20(2):349-56. doi: 10.1111/adb.12112. Epub 2013 Nov 22.

Memory retrieval of smoking-related images induce greater insula activation as revealed by an fMRI-based delayed matching to sample task.

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McLean Imaging Center, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA, USA.


Nicotine dependence is a chronic and difficult to treat disorder. While environmental stimuli associated with smoking precipitate craving and relapse, it is unknown whether smoking cues are cognitively processed differently than neutral stimuli. To evaluate working memory differences between smoking-related and neutral stimuli, we conducted a delay-match-to-sample (DMS) task concurrently with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in nicotine-dependent participants. The DMS task evaluates brain activation during the encoding, maintenance and retrieval phases of working memory. Smoking images induced significantly more subjective craving, and greater midline cortical activation during encoding in comparison to neutral stimuli that were similar in content yet lacked a smoking component. The insula, which is involved in maintaining nicotine dependence, was active during the successful retrieval of previously viewed smoking versus neutral images. In contrast, neutral images required more prefrontal cortex-mediated active maintenance during the maintenance period. These findings indicate that distinct brain regions are involved in the different phases of working memory for smoking-related versus neutral images. Importantly, the results implicate the insula in the retrieval of smoking-related stimuli, which is relevant given the insula's emerging role in addiction.


Insula; memory; nicotine dependence

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