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Nicotine Tob Res. 2018 Jun 7;20(7):851-858. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntx217.

Nicotine Increases Activation to Anticipatory Valence Cues in Anterior Insula and Striatum.

Author information

1
McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA.
2
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.
3
Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA.

Abstract

Introduction:

Smoking is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Understanding the neurobiology of the rewarding effects of nicotine promises to aid treatment development for nicotine dependence. Through its actions on mesolimbic dopaminergic systems, nicotine engenders enhanced responses to drug-related cues signaling rewards, a mechanism hypothesized to underlie the development and maintenance of nicotine addiction.

Methods:

We evaluated the effects of acute nicotine on neural responses to anticipatory cues signaling (nondrug) monetary reward or loss among 11 nonsmokers who had no prior history of tobacco smoking. In a double-blind, crossover design, participants completed study procedures while wearing nicotine or placebo patches at least 1 week apart. In each drug condition, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while performing the monetary incentive delay task and performed a probabilistic monetary reward task, probing reward responsiveness as measured by response bias toward a more frequently rewarded stimulus.

Results:

Nicotine administration was associated with enhanced activation, compared with placebo, of right fronto-anterior insular cortex and striatal regions in response to cues predicting possible rewards or losses and to dorsal anterior cingulate for rewards. Response bias toward rewarded stimuli correlated positively with insular activation to anticipatory cues.

Conclusion:

Nicotinic enhancement of monetary reward-related brain activation in the insula and striatum in nonsmokers dissociated acute effects of nicotine from effects on reward processing due to chronic smoking. Reward responsiveness predicted a greater nicotinic effect on insular activation to salient stimuli.

Implications:

Previous research demonstrates that nicotine enhances anticipatory responses to rewards in regions targeted by midbrain dopaminergic systems. The current study provides evidence that nicotine also enhances responses to rewards and losses in the anterior insula. A previous study found enhanced insular activation to rewards and losses in smokers and ex-smokers, a finding that could be due to nicotine sensitization or factors related to current or past smoking. Our finding of enhanced anterior insula response after acute administration of nicotine in nonsmokers provides support for nicotine-induced sensitization of insular response to rewards and losses.

PMID:
29059451
PMCID:
PMC5991218
[Available on 2019-06-07]
DOI:
10.1093/ntr/ntx217

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