Rationale: Tobacco smoking is associated with dysregulated reward processing within the striatum, characterized by hypersensitivity to smoking rewards and hyposensitivity to non-smoking rewards. This bias toward smoking reward at the expense of alternative rewards is further exacerbated by deprivation from smoking, which may contribute to difficulty maintaining abstinence during a quit attempt. Objective: We examined whether abstinence-induced changes in striatal processing of rewards predicted lapse likelihood during a quit attempt supported by contingency management (CM), in which abstinence from smoking was reinforced with money. Methods: Thirty-six non-treatment-seeking smokers participated in two functional MRI (fMRI) sessions, one following 24-h abstinence and one following smoking as usual. During each scan, participants completed a rewarded guessing task designed to elicit striatal activation in which they could earn smoking and monetary rewards delivered after the scan. Participants then engaged in a 3-week CM-supported quit attempt. Results: As previously reported, 24-h abstinence was associated with increased striatal activation in anticipation of smoking reward and decreased activation in anticipation of monetary reward. Individuals exhibiting greater decrements in right striatal activation to monetary reward during abstinence (controlling for activation during non-abstinence) were more likely to lapse during CM (p < 0.025), even when controlling for other predictors of lapse outcome (e.g., craving); no association was seen for smoking reward. Conclusions: These results are consistent with a growing number of studies indicating the specific importance of disrupted striatal processing of non-drug reward in nicotine dependence and highlight the importance of individual differences in abstinence-induced deficits in striatal function for smoking cessation.
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