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Biol Sex Differ. 2013 Apr 29;4(1):9. doi: 10.1186/2042-6410-4-9.

The impact of sex on brain responses to smoking cues: a perfusion fMRI study.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.



Anecdotal and clinical theories purport that females are more responsive to smoking cues, yet few objective, neurophysiological examinations of these theories have been conducted. The current study examines the impact of sex on brain responses to smoking cues.


Fifty-one (31 males) cigarette-dependent sated smokers underwent pseudo-continuous arterial spin-labeled perfusion functional magnetic resonance imaging during exposure to visual smoking cues and non-smoking cues. Brain responses to smoking cues relative to non-smoking cues were examined within males and females separately and then compared between males and females. Cigarettes smoked per day was included in analyses as a covariate.


Both males and females showed increased responses to smoking cues compared to non-smoking cues with males exhibiting increased medial orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum/ventral pallidum responses, and females showing increased medial orbitofrontal cortex responses. Direct comparisons between male and female brain responses revealed that males showed greater bilateral hippocampal/amygdala activation to smoking cues relative to non-smoking cues.


Males and females exhibit similar responses to smoking cues relative to non-smoking cues in a priori reward-related regions; however, direct comparisons between sexes indicate that smoking cues evoke greater bilateral hippocampal/amygdalar activation among males. Given the current literature on sex differences in smoking cue neural activity is sparse and incomplete, these results contribute to our knowledge of the neurobiological underpinnings of drug cue reactivity.

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