Oct 20, 2018 | Updated: 04:34 PM EDT

Some Smokers’ Brains Hardwired for Quitting Success

May 13, 2015 05:27 PM EDT

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Have you ever wondered why you have had such a hard time quitting smoking while other people you know simply put them down and never looked back?  In a new study, researchers found that the brains of smokers who do manage to quit may actually be "hardwired" for success in kicking the habit.

The new study included 85 smokers who underwent MRI scans of their brains one month before they tried to quit smoking.  All of the participants then stopped smoking and were followed for the next 10 weeks.  During that time, 41 of the 85 started smoking again.

Researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine found that those were successful at quitting smoking had greater connectivity among certain regions of their brains compared to those who started smoking again.

This higher level of connectivity was found between the insula, the source of urges and cravings and the somatosensory cortex, which is important for motor control and the sense of touch.

"Simply put, the insula is sending messages to other parts of the brain that then make the decision to pick up a cigarette or not," said study author and assistant professor Merideth Addicott in a Duke news release.

Previous studies have already shown that the insula is active when smokers have a craving for a cigarette, but in smokers who suffer damage to the insula that craving and interest in smoking is lost.

"There's a general agreement in the field that the insula is a key structure with respect to smoking, and that we need to develop cessation interventions that specifically modulate insula function," study senior author Joseph McClernon, an associate professor at Duke, said in the news release.

It is also known that neurofeedback and transcranial magnetic stimulation, also used to treat depression, can help modulate this activity in the brain.

Researchers of the study, published May 12 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, believe this new research could help provide a new target for cessation treatments.  They hope that it could one day help improve smoking cessation methods to help more smokers successfully kick the habit once and for all.

"We have provided a blueprint [for smoking cessation treatment]," McClernon said. "If we can increase connectivity in smokers to look more like those who quit successfully, that would be a place to start. We also need more research to understand what it is exactly about greater connectivity between these regions that increases the odds of success."

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