Brains of Smokers Show More Signs of Atrophy

Published Online: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
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Cigarette smoking may contribute to brain deterioration and abnormalities associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study published in the November 2012 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Researchers studied 186 healthy elderly subjects who served as control subjects in the Alzheimer Disease Neuroimaging Initiative project. Participants were organized into 2 groups at the beginning of the study: smokers and nonsmokers. Researchers collected data throughout the study on the subjects’ smoking history. Participants completed 4 magnetic resonance scans over 2 years and the researchers analyzed any changes in regional brain volume.

Smokers had a significantly greater rate of atrophy over the 2-year period than nonsmokers in multiple areas of the brain connected to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Smokers demonstrated greater atrophy rates in areas of the brain used for learning, memory, and the processing of complex visual social and emotional signals.

Researchers also found a higher rate of deterioration in smokers than nonsmokers in the extended brain reward/executive oversight system, which is associated with substance abuse.

The researchers conclude that if the increased rate of deterioration recorded over the 2 years continues, these individuals may have an increased risk of neurocognitive dysfunction. They suggest that more research be done to study the rate of atrophy beyond 2 years and its implications.

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