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Nicotine deprivation elevates neural representation of smoking-related cues in object-sensitive visual cortex: a proof of concept study

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OBJECTIVE: In the current study, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) to investigate whether tobacco addiction biases basic visual processing in favour of smoking-related images. We hypothesize that the neural representation of smoking-related stimuli in the lateral occipital complex (LOC) is elevated after a period of nicotine deprivation compared to a satiated state, but that this is not the case for object categories unrelated to smoking.

METHODS: Current smokers (≥10 cigarettes a day) underwent two fMRI scanning sessions: one after 10 h of nicotine abstinence and the other one after smoking ad libitum. Regional blood oxygenated level-dependent (BOLD) response was measured while participants were presented with 24 blocks of 8 colour-matched pictures of cigarettes, pencils or chairs. The functional data of 10 participants were analysed through a pattern classification approach.

RESULTS: In bilateral LOC clusters, the classifier was able to discriminate between patterns of activity elicited by visually similar smoking-related (cigarettes) and neutral objects (pencils) above empirically estimated chance levels only during deprivation (mean = 61.0%, chance (permutations) = 50.0%, p = .01) but not during satiation (mean = 53.5%, chance (permutations) = 49.9%, ns.). For all other stimulus contrasts, there was no difference in discriminability between the deprived and satiated conditions.

CONCLUSION: The discriminability between smoking and non-smoking visual objects was elevated in object-selective brain region LOC after a period of nicotine abstinence. This indicates that attention bias likely affects basic visual object processing.

    Research areas

  • Journal Article, BRAIN ACTIVITY, ACTIVATION, PATTERN-ANALYSIS, ATTENTIONAL BIAS, PREFRONTAL CORTEX, ADDICTION, DEPENDENCE, Nicotine deprivation, Attention bias, Pattern classification, SMOKERS, Lateral occipital complex, Smoking cues, LATERAL OCCIPITAL COMPLEX, FMRI
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2375–2384
Number of pages10
Issue number16
Early online date21 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017