Compared with non-smokers, smokers often demonstrate different patterns of activity in brain networks related to inhibitory control (IC) — the ability to inhibit or regulate automatic behavioural responses. However, what impact these differences have on attempts to quit smoking is unknown.
To find out, researchers studied 81 adults who underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while completing an IC task, before attempting to quit smoking.
Follow-up at ten weeks showed that smokers who relapsed during the study had a significantly different pattern of blood oxygenation level-dependent response, indicating reduced functional connectivity between key brain regions involved in IC, compared with those who remained abstinent. The team found a similar pattern in a separate study of 26 non-treatment seeking smokers.
Writing in JAMA Psychiatry
(online, 1 March 2017), the researchers say the findings suggest that interventions targeting IC deficits could hold potential to help smokers sustain their quit attempts.
 Froeliger B, McConnel PA, Bell S et al. Association between baseline corticothalamic-mediated inhibitory control and smoking relapse vulnerability. JAMA Psychiatry 2017. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.0017