Yale researchers have pinpointed a different brain response between male and female smokers by analyzing dynamic brain scans. This study marks the first time that PET (positron emission tomography) scans were used to create “movies” of how smoking affects dopamine, the neurotransmitter that triggers feelings of pleasure in the brain. This could lead to developments in gender-specific treatments to help smokers quit.
A new image analysis technique produced a novel multidimensional endpoint: voxel-level temporal patterns of neurotransmitter release in individual subjects. Scientists then combined this analysis technique with high-resolution brain scanning and high frequency motion correction to create the optimal experiment for capturing and characterizing the effects of smoking on the mesolimbic dopamine system in humans.
By examining these endpoints quantitatively, researchers demonstrated that the timing of dopaminergic responses to cigarette smoking differs between men and women. Men respond consistently and rapidly in the ventral striatum whereas women respond faster in a discrete sub region of the dorsal putamen.
The studies main finding is that male smokers activate dopamine in the right ventral striatum during smoking but female smokers do not. This finding, men activating more ventrally than women, is consistent with the established notion that men smoke for the reinforcing drug effect of cigarettes whereas women smoke for emotional reasons, such as mood regulation and cue reactivity.
According to Kelly Cosgrove, lead author of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry, diagnostic radiology and neurobiology at the Yale School of Medicine:
“The study gives those developing smoking-cessation tools new insights into how to target men and women differently.”
Before this study, the neurological basis for the differences between the genders and smoking behavior had eluded researchers. These differences explain why men respond to nicotine replacement therapies such as the patch better than women do, and why women can have a harder time quitting smoking than men.
The effect could be far-reaching. Although strides have been made in helping people quit, smoking continues to be a major health issue. Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths nationwide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men who smoke are 25 times more likely than nonsmokers to get lung cancer, while female smokers are 26 times more likely.
Although the Yale study was small, the findings were significant. This will encourage more research into gender specific programs and more treatment options.
Talk to your physician for information on alternative smoking cessation programs. Individual plans can offer long-term success and a healthier lifestyle. It is never too late to benefit from quitting the habit of smoking and reduce the associated health risks.