Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 205 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 23-Jul-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 24-Jul-2004
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PET study highlights mechanism involved in nicotine craving

Researchers at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine have used positron emission tomography (PET) to reveal the mechanism through which bupropion, a smoking cessation drug, works in the brain to reduce cigarette cravings.

The scientists used PET imaging to examine brain activity in bupropion-medicated and unmedicated smokers who were exposed to smoking cues, such as the sight and feel of a cigarette. They were able to show that in the presence of bupropion, brain cells in the anterior cingulate cortex—a region known to be involved in drug craving—do not activate in response to cigarette-related cues. Until now, scientists and clinicians knew the drug reduced the urge to smoke, but the central nervous system process by which it did so was unknown.

Bupropion is marketed as Zyban for smoking cessation.

Thirty-seven otherwise healthy smokers participated in the trial. Seventeen received bupropion for an average of 5.6 weeks; 20 were unmedicated. All participants underwent two PET scanning sessions. During the PET scans, the people either watched a smoking-oriented video and held a cigarette, or viewed a nature video and held a neutral object, like a pen. The researchers also assessed the participants’ cravings for cigarettes through analysis of scores on the Urge to Smoke Scale. Bupropion-treated smokers had lower “Urge to Smoke” scores than untreated smokers. They also reported smoking fewer cigarettes per day.

CONCLUSION: This study increases our understanding of the basic nervous system mechanisms involved in drug craving, and how cues like smelling and seeing a cigarette can drive the impulse to smoke. A more complete understanding of these mechanisms can aid in the development of more effective treatment strategies.

The NIDA-funded study, by Dr. Arthur Brody and his colleagues, was published online in the April 2004 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

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