Smoking Affects Brain Function in Teens

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Teens who smoke could possibly be letting themselves in for more poor decision making in the future.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that nicotine addiction affected the part of the brain that is associated with decision-making. The prefrontal cortex, the area that is responsible for guiding the decision making process, is still developing in teens, both functionally and structurally. They found that the more addicted they were to nicotine the less activity was present in the prefrontal cortex.

In the study, published by Neuropsychopharmacology, 50 young people, half smokers and half non-smokers, were asked to perform a test designed to measure the ability to control action, while undergoing a scan of the brain to determine what area was used to control the action. While smokers and non-smokers performed similarly on the test, the more the teen smoked, the less prefrontal cortex activity was measured.

"The finding that there was little difference on the Stop-Signal Task between smokers and non-smokers was a surprise," said Edythe London, a professor of psychiatry and molecular and medical pharmacology at the at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "That suggested to us that the motor response of smokers may be maintained through some kind of compensation from other brain areas."

But even with the compensation from other areas of the brain the, “effect can influence the ability of youth to make rational decisions regarding their well-being, and that includes the decision to stop smoking," said London. “As the prefrontal cortex continues to develop during the critical period of adolescence, smoking may influence the trajectory of brain development…A teen may be more likely to start smoking and to keep smoking -- instead of making the decision that would favor a healthier life."

Source: Science Daily
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