NARSAD Grant Discovery: Deep-Brain Stimulation as Treatment for Nicotine Addiction

NARSAD Grant Discovery: Deep-Brain Stimulation as Treatment for Nicotine Addiction

Posted: January 1, 2013

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Bernard Le Foll, M.D., Ph.D., C.C.F.P. of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto, used his 2009 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation to lead a team that reports success in using electrical brain stimulation to control craving for nicotine in “addicted” laboratory rats. This research raises hope for a new treatment option for nicotine addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse nearly 70 million Americans use tobacco, including 90% of people with mental illness.


It is the first time, says Dr. Le Foll, that the method called deep-brain stimulation (DBS) has been used to control nicotine addiction in rodents conditioned to self-administer the drug. In a paper appearing December 19, 2012 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, he and colleagues explain that they applied DBS via tiny electrodes implanted in a brain region called the granular insular cortex. Previously, inactivation of neurons in this same region by drugs had been shown to block nicotine-taking and -seeking behaviors.

Importantly, Dr. Le Foll’s team reports, treatment with DBS appeared specific, both in terms of behavior and brain biology. Stimulation of the insular cortex did not affect, for instance, appetite; while stimulation in the surrounding brain area had no impact on nicotine addiction behavior.


The team says that further exploration would be required to determine the mechanism behind the beneficial effect of DBS on nicotine craving. It may be the result of changes induced in local brain cells, or those located some distance from the stimulated area. “Regardless of the circuitry involved, our result is interesting both clinically and in terms of basic brain science,” Dr. Le Foll said. DBS or a medication that mimics its local effect appears to have the potential for treatment of nicotine addiction.

Read more about this research from Neuropsychopharmacology