Mu opioid receptor binding correlates with nicotine dependence and reward in smokers

Hiroto Kuwabara, Stephen J. Heishman, James R. Brasic, Carlo Contoreggi, Nicola Cascella, Kristen M. Mackowick, Richard Taylor, Olivier Rousset, William Willis, Marilyn A. Huestis, Marta Concheiro, Gary Wand, Dean F. Wong, Nora D. Volkow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The rewarding effects of nicotine are associated with activation of nicotine receptors. However, there is increasing evidence that the endogenous opioid system is involved in nicotine's rewarding effects. We employed PET imaging with [11C]carfentanil to test the hypotheses that acute cigarette smoking increases release of endogenous opioids in the human brain and that smokers have an upregulation of mu opioid receptors (MORs) when compared to nonsmokers. We found no significant changes in binding potential (BPND) of [11C]carfentanil between the placebo and the active cigarette sessions, nor did we observe differences in MOR binding between smokers and nonsmokers. Interestingly, we showed that in smokers MOR availability in bilateral superior temporal cortices during the placebo condition was negatively correlated with scores on the Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence (FTND). Also in smokers, smoking-induced decreases in [11C]carfentanil binding in frontal cortical regions were associated with self-reports of cigarette liking and wanting. Although we did not show differences between smokers and nonsmokers, the negative correlation with FTND corroborates the role of MORs in superior temporal cortices in nicotine addiction and provides preliminary evidence of a role of endogenous opioid signaling in frontal cortex in nicotine reward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere113694
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 10 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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