Nicotine addiction: non-smokers due to damaged brain region

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Nicotine addiction: non-smokers due to damaged brain region
Nicotine addiction: non-smokers due to damaged brain region

Non-smoker due to damaged brain region

Damage to the insula – an area of the lateral cerebral cortex – may protect against nicotine addiction. Scientists from the University of Iowa in Iowa City made this accidental discovery in a patient who had previously smoked about 40 cigarettes a day.

Surprisingly, the heavy smoker quit the habit overnight after a stroke damaged his island lobe. His body had "forgotten" the urge to smoke, he told his doctors.

The researchers led by Antoine Bechara then examined 69 other patients with brain damage who had previously been smokers. It was found that 13 out of 19 people with a damaged insula had become non-smokers. In twelve of them, the addiction suddenly disappeared. The effect was not as strong in other types of brain damage.

The coin-sized insula beneath the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes is involved in sensing chemical stimuli and processing emotions. The scientists are now speculating whether areas of this brain region in addicts can be switched off in a targeted manner using transcranial magnetic stimulation - in particular because the patients examined still had normal survival needs such as eating. However, today's technology does not penetrate deep enough. In addition, Bechara points out, it is not clear which other behaviors would be affected by such an intervention. (aj)

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