Brain-Damaged Patients Quit Smoking with Ease

To quit smoking seems to be easier
when the insula is damaged
© PixelQuelle.de

Obviously brain damage is not a treatment option for nicotine addiction, but the new results may offer leads for therapies to help smokers kick the habit or for monitoring smokers' progress while using existing therapies. The study was largely inspired by a patient who had smoked around 40 cigarettes a day before his insula was damaged by a stroke and then quit immediately after. He told the researchers that his body "forgot the urge to smoke."

The insula receives information from other parts of the body and is thought to help translate those signals into something we subjectively feel, such as hunger, pain, or craving for a drug.
Though intriguing, the possibility of insula-targeting drugs that might help smokers quit is still a long way off. More immediately, it may be possible to monitor the success of current smoking cessation therapies by measuring the activity within this brain region.

Antoine Bechara of the University of Southern California and the University of Iowa and his colleagues studied 69 patients with brain damage who had been smokers before the damage occurred. Nineteen of these patients had brain damage that included the insula. Thirteen of the insula-damaged patients had quit smoking, and 12 of them had done so quickly and easily, reporting that they had felt no urges to smoke since quitting. The authors don't know why the other six patients did not quit smoking.

Because the patients reported losing the urge to smoke so suddenly and without difficulty or relapse, Bechara and his colleagues concluded that insula damage reduced the patients' actual urge to smoke rather than reducing the pleasurable experience, or "reward," associated with smoking. Bechara says these findings don't contradict the importance of the reward system in addiction; rather, they add another piece to the picture.

MEDICA.de; Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science