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Smoking affects same 'feel good' brain chemical system as heroin

rly all the nicotine. And they recruited six male smokers in their 20s who reported smoking more than 14 cigarettes each day.

They asked the participants to refrain from smoking for at least 12 hours before coming in for their scans, and tested their breath to make sure they hadn't cheated. The researchers injected the participants with the radioactive tracer form of carfentanil, and started the 90-minute PET scan. Then, they asked participants to rate their feelings on a sliding scale before lighting up a series of two de-nicotinized cigarettes, again between cigarettes, and again after two normal cigarettes.

At baseline, the smokers shower lower receptor levels before smoking. "This may suggest that continued exposure to nicotine had increased the neurotransmitter levels, that are being released under baseline conditions, for example after overnight abstinence from smoking," says Scott. "We are specifically examining this possibility in ongoing studies."

During the smoking of the de-nicotinized cigarettes, the smokers' brains started to show changes in opioid flow. But after they took a 20-minute break from smoking and then smoked regular cigarettes containing nicotine, the opioid levels changed dramatically.

In the area of the brain called the anterior cingulate, which is involved in emotion and emotion-memory integration, the activity of the opioid system increased by about 20 percent. This meant that far more endorphins and enkephalins were being released during smoking.

But the reverse was true in other key parts of the brain involved in memory, emotion and pleasure: the amygdala, the thalamus and the nucleus accumbens. In all three areas, the opioid system was 20 to 30 percent less active after the nicotine from the cigarettes was introduced.

This sharp drop in activity, most significantly in the amygdala and the thalamus, correlated with simultaneous reports from the smokers about how they were feeling aft
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
26-Oct-2004


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