When a person smokes, the number of nicotine receptors in the brain – which bind to nicotine and reinforce the habit of smoking – are thought to increase in number.
A new study found this is true in men – male smokers had a greater number of nicotine receptors compared to male non-smokers. But surprisingly, women smokers had about the same number of nicotine receptors as non-smokers.
“When you look at it by gender, you see this big difference,” Fox News quoted study researcher Kelly Cosgrove, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, as saying.
The study suggests women smokers may benefit more from other types of treatment that don’t involve nicotine, including behavioural therapies, such as exercise or relaxation techniques, and non-nicotine containing medications, Cosgrove said.
Cosgrove and colleagues scanned the brains of 52 men and 58 women, about half of whom were smokers.
Smokers in the study had abstained from smoking for a week so that their nicotine receptors would be free to bind to the marker used for imaging.
The researchers found that male smokers had about 16 percent more nicotine receptors in an area of their brain known as the striatum, 17 percent more in the cerebellum, and 13 to 17 percent more in the cortical region, or outside layer, of the brain compared with male non-smokers. Female smokers, on the other hand, had similar numbers of nicotine receptors in these brain regions.
The study has been published in the April issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.