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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1998 Mar;136(2):179-89.

Cerebral effects of nicotine during cognition in smokers and non-smokers.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.


For the smoker, nicotine has a positive effect on attention, cognition and mood. Conversely, nicotine abstinence is characterized by uncomfortable psychological effects such as impaired attention, but also irritability. We postulated that nicotine exerts an effect on cerebral areas important for attention and mood. Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF), as an index for cerebral activity, was measured in both smokers and non-smokers. They were scanned during performance of a psychometric task with and without i.v. infusion of nicotine (1-methyl-2-[3-pyridyll] pyrrolidine). Nicotine induced rCBF decreases in the anterior cingulate cortex and the cerebellum, and concomitant increases in the occipital cortex. The changes were similar in nature and magnitude in smokers and non-smokers. Thus, specific changes were induced in areas pertaining to the anterior attention system and to higher order visual cortex. We conclude that these effects on cerebral activity provide insights into the desired positive effects of nicotine on cognition as well as the negative effects experienced during nicotine abstinence.

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