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Brain stimulation reduces cigarette craving

By Heather Woolwine | News Center | April 24, 2013


Doctors Karen Hartwell and Xingbao Li used a transcranial magnetic stimulation device (pictured behind them) in their study.

 Dr. Li demonstrates how patients are positioned to receive transcranial magnetic stimulation. It is delivered over the prefrontal cortex using a magnetic field to stimulate nerve cells.

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 is hard and most people who try to quit regularly relapse.

A new study led by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and published in Biological Psychiatry now reports that a single 15-minute session of high frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) 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 so patients remain awake, reclined in a chair, while treatment is administered through coils placed near the forehead.

Researchers found that craving induced by smoking cues was reduced after participants received real stimulation. They also report that the reduction in cue-induced craving was positively correlated with level of nicotine dependence; in other words, the TMS-induced craving reductions were greater in those with higher levels of nicotine use.

The article is “Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex Reduces Nicotine Cue Craving” by Xingbao Li, Karen J. Hartwell, Max Owens, Todd LeMatty, Jeffrey J. Borckardt, Colleen A. Hanlon, Kathleen T. Brady, and Mark S. George (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.01.003) and appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 73, Issue 8 (April 15, 2013), published by Elsevier.



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MUSC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences



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