IMAGING STUDY: Selectively reduced responses to smoking cues in amygdala following extinction-based smoking cessation: results of a preliminary functional magnetic resonance imaging study


F. Joseph McClernon, DUMC 2701, Durham, NC 27708, USA. E-mail:


Preliminary studies suggest an extinction-based smoking cessation treatment using reduced nicotine content (RNC) cigarettes decreases self-report craving for cigarettes prior to quitting and may be an effective smoking cessation treatment. The aims of this study was to evaluate the effect of an extinction-based smoking cessation treatment on brain responses to smoking cues using blood-oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Sixteen (n = 16) dependent smokers were scanned using BOLD fMRI at baseline, following 2–4 weeks of smoking RNC cigarettes while wearing a 21-mg nicotine patch, and 2–4 weeks following quitting smoking. During scanning, participants viewed smoking-related pictures (e.g. lit cigarette) and pictures of people engaged in everyday activities (e.g. using a stapler). Event-related BOLD responses to smoking and control cues were analyzed in regions of interest (ROIs) known to subserve reward, attention, motivation and emotion. The extinction-based treatment simultaneously attenuated responses to smoking cues in amygdala while potentiating responses to control cues. Exploratory analysis indicated that this pattern was also observed in the thalamus of future abstinent but not relapsing smokers. The results of this preliminary study suggest that an extinction-based treatment for smoking cessation alters brain responses to smoking and control cues in amygdala—a region previously associated with drug cue reactivity and extinction.