, Volume 184, Issue 3-4, pp 577-588
Date: 13 Aug 2005

Severity of nicotine dependence modulates cue-induced brain activity in regions involved in motor preparation and imagery

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In nicotine-dependent subjects, cues related to smoking elicit activity in brain regions linked to attention, memory, emotion and motivation. Cue-induced brain activation is associated with self-reported craving but further correlates are widely unknown.


This study was conducted to investigate whether brain activity elicited by smoking cues increases with severity of nicotine dependence and intensity of cue-elicited craving.


Ten healthy male smokers whose degree of nicotine dependence ranged from absent to severe were investigated. Visual smoking cues and neutral stimuli were presented in a block design during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Using multiple linear regression analysis, the blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response to smoking cues was correlated with severity of nicotine dependence assessed with the Fagerström Test of Nicotine Dependence (FTND) and with cue-induced craving.


Significant positive correlations between the BOLD activity and FTND scores were found in brain areas related to visuospatial attention (anterior cingulate cortex, parietal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and cuneus) and in regions involved in motor preparation and imagery (primary and premotor cortex, supplementary motor area). Intensity of cue-induced craving was significantly associated with greater BOLD activation in mesocorticolimbic areas engaged in incentive motivation and in brain regions related to episodic memory.


Our study suggests that severity of nicotine dependence and intensity of craving are independently associated with cue-induced brain activation in separate neuronal networks. The observed association between severity of dependence and brain activity in regions involved in allocation of attention, motor preparation and imagery might reflect preparation of automated drug taking behavior thereby facilitating cue-induced relapse.

M. Smolka and M. Bühler contributed equally to this work.