January 26, 2007

Brain damage kills craving for nicotine
- Adam Cresswell, The Australian

Smokers who suffer damage to a particular part of their brains appear to be able to quit their nicotine habit easily - a discovery that might open new avenues of addiction research.

A study of smokers who had suffered brain damage of various kinds after a stroke showed that those with injuries to a part of the brain called the insula were in many cases able to quit smoking quickly and easily - saying they had lost the urge to smoke altogether.

The insula receives information from the body and translates it into subjective feelings such as hunger, pain and craving, including craving for drugs.

However, the insula has not attracted much attention in studies on drug addiction, according to the research in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Deliberately damaging people's insulas is not considered a realistic treatment option, because the risks are too great and the insula also has a role in many essential functions, such as the desire to eat.

But in the long term, the authors said, drugs might be developed to target the insula.

Other techniques for affecting the insula might in future also include electrical stimulation, already used in patients with depression. However, current techniques cannot penetrate the brain deeply enough to reach the insula.

The study was inspired by the experience of a man who had smoked 40 cigarettes a day before his insula was damaged in a stroke. He quit smoking immediately after, telling researchers his body "forgot the urge to smoke".

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