Habenular and striatal activity during performance feedback are differentially linked with state-like and trait-like aspects of tobacco use disorder

Flannery JS, Riedel MC, Poudel R, Laird AR, Ross TJ, Salmeron BJ, Stein EA, Sutherland MT, Sci Adv 5 (10) :eaax2084 (2019).


The habenula, an epithalamic nucleus involved in reward and aversive processing, may contribute to negative reinforcement mechanisms maintaining nicotine use. We used a performance feedback task that differentially activates the striatum and habenula and administered nicotine and varenicline (versus placebos) to overnight-abstinent smokers and nonsmokers to delineate feedback-related functional brain alterations both as a function of smoking trait (smokers versus nonsmokers) and drug administration state (drug versus placebo). Smokers showed less striatal responsivity to positive feedback, an alteration not mitigated by drug administration, but rather correlated with trait-level addiction severity. Conversely, nicotine administration reduced habenula activity following both positive and negative feedback among abstinent smokers, but not nonsmokers, and increased habenula activity among smokers correlated with elevated state-level tobacco cravings. These outcomes highlight a dissociation between neurobiological processes linked with the dependence severity trait and the nicotine withdrawal state. Interventions simultaneously targeting both aspects may improve currently poor cessation outcomes.