Abnormal changes in brain connectivity may indicate severity of nicotine addiction, study finds

BEIJING (AP) — Researchers have discovered patterns of brain connectivity that could serve as potential biomarkers for nicotine addiction, according to a study published in Psychiatry Research. The study found that changes in white matter functional connectivity are associated with nicotine addiction.

White matter, a type of brain tissue composed of nerve fibers, plays a critical role in cognitive functions such as attention, learning, and memory. It also regulates movement and sensation by transmitting signals between different parts of the brain and the rest of the body. Study author Rujing Zha, a special associate researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China, said that white matter lesions are the core pathological changes in smoking addiction, and changes in white matter function can reveal the severity of neuropsychiatric disorders.

The study compared 62 smokers and 66 non-smokers. Eligible participants smoked at least 10 cigarettes a day for at least two years, had normal vision, were right-handed, and did not have any mental or physical health problems except nicotine addiction. The study found that the group addicted to nicotine had less efficient brain communication and fewer connections between neurons compared to the healthy controls.

However, the study has limitations as all participants were male and under 40 years old with no serious physical illnesses caused by smoking. Zha emphasized the need for further research to determine whether these results are applicable to smoking-addicted adolescents, women, middle-aged and elderly populations. Further research should also examine changes in brain function of individuals who have quit smoking.