, Volume 220, Issue 4, pp 707–718 | Cite as

Nicotine withdrawal modulates frontal brain function during an affective Stroop task

  • Brett FroeligerEmail author
  • Leslie Modlin
  • Lihong Wang
  • Rachel V. Kozink
  • F. Joseph McClernon
Original Investigation



Among nicotine-dependent smokers, smoking abstinence disrupts multiple cognitive and affective processes including conflict resolution and emotional information processing (EIP). However, the neurobiological basis of abstinence effects on resolving emotional interference on cognition remains largely uncharacterized. In this study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to investigate smoking abstinence effects on emotion–cognition interactions.


Smokers (n = 17) underwent fMRI while performing an affective Stroop task (aST) over two sessions: once following 24-h abstinence and once following smoking as usual. The aST includes trials that serially present incongruent or congruent numerical grids bracketed by neutral or negative emotional distractors and view-only emotional image trials. Statistical analyses were conducted using a statistical threshold of p < 0.05 cluster corrected.


Smoking abstinence increased Stroop blood-oxygenation-level-dependent response in the right middle frontal and rostral anterior cingulate gyri. Moreover, withdrawal-induced negative affect was associated with less activation in frontoparietal regions during negative emotional information processing; whereas, during Stroop trials, negative affect predicted greater activation in frontal regions during negative, but not neutral emotional distractor trials.


Hyperactivation in the frontal executive control network during smoking abstinence may represent a need to recruit additional executive resources to meet task demands. Moreover, abstinence-induced negative affect may disrupt cognitive control neural circuitry during EIP and place additional demands on frontal executive neural resources during cognitive demands when presented with emotionally distracting stimuli.


Smoking Withdrawal Emotion Affect Cognition fMRI Nicotine Stroop Cingulate PFC 



We thank Luke Poole for his assistance with data acquisition. We would also like to thank the reviewers of the manuscript for their comments and thoughtful suggestions. This research was supported by a NIDA grant R03 DA026536Z to BF.

Financial disclosures

Ms. Modlin and Ms. Kozink report no conflicts of interest. Dr. Froeliger reports having research funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. McClernon reports funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and prior funding from the Atkins Foundation and an unrestricted grant from Philip Morris USA to Duke University (Dr. Jed E. Rose, PI). Dr. Wang is supported by the Paul B. Beeson Career Developmental Awards (K23-AG028982) and a National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression Young Investigator Award.

Supplementary material

213_2011_2522_MOESM1_ESM.doc (53 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 53 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brett Froeliger
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Leslie Modlin
    • 3
    • 4
  • Lihong Wang
    • 4
    • 5
  • Rachel V. Kozink
    • 3
    • 4
  • F. Joseph McClernon
    • 3
    • 4
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis CenterDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Duke-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis CenterDurhamUSA
  5. 5.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  6. 6.VISN 6 Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical CenterDurham Veterans Affairs Medical CenterDurhamUSA

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