Some People “Hardwired” to Quit Smoking, Study Suggests

A new study suggests that some people may be more capable of quitting smoking simply because their brains are “wired” differently than others.

The study, which was carried out by health researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine, involved 85 smokers. The participants underwent MRI scans of their brains about 30 days before they made an attempt to quit smoking.

All 85 of those participating in the study were able to quit. However, the researchers kept tabs on the participants’ progress over the following ten weeks, during which time almost half of them starting smoking again.

To try and understand why this happened, the Duke researchers carefully examined the MRI brain scans. They found that the people with higher levels of connectivity between certain parts of the brain known as insula–often cited as a source of urges and cravings–and the somatosensory cortex, which is critical for motor control and sense of touch, were most likely to succeed at quitting smoking and staying away from cigarettes.

“Simply put, the insula is sending messages to other parts of the brain that then make the decision to pick up a cigarette or not,” notes Merideth Addicott, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor at Duke.

Joseph McClernon, another Duke professor who contributed to the study, says it’s clear more research needs to focus on the insula. “There’s a general agreement in the field that the insula is a key structure with respect to smoking, and that we need to develop cessation interventions that specifically modulate insula function,” McClernon said.

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