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The Catalyst

Cravings decreased through magnetic brain stimulation

Despite a growing number of ways to quit smoking by altering the function of the brain, such as medications, behavioral therapies, hypnosis and even acupuncture, smoking cessation remains difficult for most people.

A new study led by MUSC and published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry now reports that a single 15-minute session of high frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation over the prefrontal cortex temporarily reduced cue-induced smoking cravings in nicotine-dependent individuals.

“While this was only a temporary effect, it raises the possibility that repeated TMS sessions might ultimately be used to help smokers quit smoking,” said Xingbao Li, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences’ Brain Stimulation Laboratory. “TMS, as used in this study, is safe and is already FDA approved for treating depression. This finding opens the way for further exploration of the use of brain stimulation techniques in smoking cessation treatment.”

Li and his MUSC colleagues examined cravings triggered by smoking cues in 16 nicotine-dependent volunteers who received one session each of high frequency or sham-repetitive TMS applied over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This design allowed the researchers to look at the effects of the real versus the sham stimulation, similar to how placebo pills are used in evaluating the effectiveness and safety of new medications. TMS is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells. It does not require sedation or anesthesia, and patients remain awake, reclined in a chair, while treatment is administered through coils placed near the forehead.

Researchers found that cravings induced by smoking cues were reduced after participants received real stimulation. They also reported that the TMS-induced craving reductions were greater in those with higher levels of nicotine use.

May 9, 2013

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