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Smoking May Alter Brain Structure in Young People

March 4, 2014
Public Health

brainA new study by scientists at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour in the United States has suggested that young smokers may be in danger of changes to brain structure.

 The team mapped the brains of 42 young people between the ages of 16 and 21 using MRI scans. Eighteen of the participants were smokers who had started smoking around 15, smoking six to seven cigarettes per day. Changes were detected even in smokers with a relatively short smoking history.

┬áResults showed clear differences in the brains of smokers and non-smokers, with the insula (a region of the cerebral cortex involved in decision-making) most affected. Previous studies have concluded that this part of the brain plays a major role in tobacco dependence. According to senior report author Edythe D London, this may explain why those who take up smoking in early years find it more difficult to kick the habit in later life. “Because the brain is still undergoing development, smoking during this critical period may produce neurobiological changes that promote tobacco dependence later in life,” she said. “It is possible that changes in the brain from prolonged exposure help maintain dependence.”

 Researchers admitted further studies need to be undertaken to rule out other influences on brain structure. A full copy of the abstract of the report is available here