Trial-by-Trial Fluctuations in Brain Responses to Stress Predict Subsequent Smoking Decisions That Occur Several Seconds Later.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2020.06.012


BACKGROUND: To investigate the neurobiological mechanisms that determine self-regulation of smoking urges when a person encounters stress, we investigated brain network interactions of smoking self-regulation by employing a real-time smoking (nicotine delivery) decision paradigm and a brain-as-predictor neuroimaging approach.

METHODS: While in the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, 25 cigarette smokers who abstained from smoking overnight made 200 real smoking decisions regarding whether or not to take a puff of an electronic cigarette during 3 different stress conditions (cognitive stress, emotional stress, and no stress). Cognitive stress was induced by a concurrent working memory load, and emotional stress was induced by manipulating a chance of aversive electric shock.

RESULTS: Behaviorally, both cognitive and emotional stress manipulations increased the probability of making a decision to smoke (i.e., taking a puff). In magnetic resonance imaging trial-by-trial analyses, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity measured at the time of the stress cue significantly predicted future smoking decisions that occurred several seconds later. Furthermore, the influence of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity on smoking decisions was mediated by the ventral striatum activity at the time of smoking decisions.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study demonstrated that brain responses at the time of a stressful moment determine subsequent trial-by-trial smoking decisions by systematically altering brain executive (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and reward (ventral striatum) system network activities. Our results further suggest potential translational importance of neuroscientific approaches to predicting self-regulation failures at critical stressful moments.

Journal Title

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging





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Decision making; Self-control; Smoking; Stress; Trial-by-trial analysis; fMRI

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