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Synapse. 2009 Dec;63(12):1089-99. doi: 10.1002/syn.20688.

GABAA-benzodiazepine receptor availability in smokers and nonsmokers: relationship to subsyndromal anxiety and depression.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, Veteran's Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System (VACHS), 116A6 West Haven, Connecticut 06516, USA.


Many smokers experience subsyndromal anxiety symptoms while smoking and during acute abstinence, which may contribute to relapse. We hypothesized that cortical gamma aminobutyric acid(A)-benzodiazepine receptor (GABA(A)-BZR) availability in smokers and nonsmokers might be related to the expression of subsyndromal anxiety, depressive, and pain symptoms. Cortical GABA(A)-BZRs were imaged in 15 smokers (8 men and 7 women), and 15 healthy age and sex-matched nonsmokers, and 4 abstinent tobacco smokers (3 men; 1 woman) using [(123)I]iomazenil and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Anxiety and depressive symptoms were measured using the Spielberger's State-Trait Anxiety Index (STAI) and the Center for Epidemiology Scale for Depressive Symptoms (CES-D). The cold pressor task was administered to assess pain tolerance and sensitivity. The relationship between cortical GABA(A)-BZR availability, smoking status, and subsyndromal depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as pain tolerance and sensitivity, were evaluated. Surprisingly, there were no statistically significant differences in overall GABA(A)-BZR availability between smokers and nonsmokers or between active and abstinent smokers; however, cortical GABA(A)-BZR availability negatively correlated with subsyndromal state anxiety symptoms in nonsmokers but not in smokers. In nonsmokers, the correlation was seen across many brain areas with state anxiety [parietal (r = -0.47, P = 0.03), frontal (r = -0.46, P = 0.03), anterior cingulate (r = -0.47, P = 0.04), temporal (r = -0.47, P = 0.03), occipital (r = -0.43, P = 0.05) cortices, and cerebellum (r = -0.46, P = 0.04)], trait anxiety [parietal (r = -0.72, P = 0.02), frontal (r = -0.72, P = 0.02), and occipital (r = -0.65, P = 0.04) cortices] and depressive symptoms [parietal (r = -0.68; P = 0.02), frontal (r = -0.65; P = 0.03), anterior cingulate (r = -0.61; P = 0.04), and temporal (r = -0.66; P = 0.02) cortices]. The finding that a similar relationship between GABA(A)-BZR availability and anxiety symptoms was not observed in smokers suggests that there is a difference in GABA(A)-BZR function, but not number, in smokers. Thus, while subsyndromal anxiety and depressive symptoms in nonsmokers may be determined in part by GABA(A)-BZR availability, smoking disrupts this relationship. Aberrant regulation of GABA(A)-BZR function in vulnerable smokers may explain why some smokers experience subsyndromal anxiety and depression.

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