Damage to brain spot helps smokers quit


Written on Tuesday, January 30, 2007 by Gemini

New York: Damage to the brain “insula”—a silver dollar-sized area located deep in the brain, surrounded by the cerebral cortex, disrupts the addiction to cigarette smoking and makes kicking the habit much easier, according to research reported in the journal Science.

This finding could lead to the development of novel anti-smoking agents.

Previous reports have linked the insula with conscious urges. In addition, senior author Antoine Bechara, from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and colleagues previously encountered a two-pack per day cigarette smoker who was able to stop smoking with little difficulty after experiencing stroke-related damage to the insula. These findings led the researchers to hypothesise that damage to the insula may help break the addiction to smoking.

To investigate, the authors compared smoking cessation in 19 smokers who sustained damage to the insula and 50 smokers who sustained damage to other brain regions. Insula-injured smokers were more likely to break their smoking addiction than the control subjects. In fact, insulainjured smokers quit smoking immediately with no relapse and seemed to have lost the urge to smoke.

The findings have important treatment implications, although knocking out the entire insula with drugs would not be a suitable option. “There is a lot of potential for pharmacological developments,” Bechara said in a statement. However, since “the insula carries out lots of normal everyday functions...we would want to make sure we only interfere with functions that disrupt bad habits like smoking but not something vital like eating.”

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