Nicotine enhances but does not normalize visual sustained attention and the associated brain network in schizophrenia

L. Elliot Hong, Matthew Schroeder, Thomas J. Ross, Brittany Buchholz, Betty Jo Salmeron, Ikwunga Wonodi, Gunvant K. Thaker, Elliot A. Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Sustained attention abnormality in schizophrenia is usually refractory to available treatment. Nicotine can transiently improve sustained attention in schizophrenia patients, although its neural mechanisms are unknown. Understanding the neural basis of this effect may lead to new treatment strategies for this cognitive deficit. Twenty schizophrenia patients and 24 healthy comparison smokers participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover, randomized functional magnetic resonance imaging study comparing nicotine vs placebo patch on sustained attention, using the rapid visual information-processing task. Schizophrenia patients had impaired visual sustained attention accuracy and processing speed (all P's <.001) and showed significantly reduced activation in the frontal-parietal-cingulate-thalamic attention network compared with healthy comparison subjects. Nicotine administration enhanced accuracy and processing speed compared with placebo (all P's ≤.006), with no drug × diagnosis interactions. However, schizophrenia patients' task performance remained impaired during the nicotine condition, even when compared with healthy comparison subjects in the placebo condition (all P's ≤.01). Nicotine exerted no significant reversal of the impaired attention network associated with schizophrenia. Activations in brain regions associated with nicotine-induced behavioral improvement were not significantly different between patients and comparison subjects. Thus, nicotine transiently enhanced sustained attention similarly in schizophrenia patients and in healthy comparison smokers. The neural mechanisms for this nicotinic effect in schizophrenia appear similar to those for healthy comparison subjects. However, nicotine, at least in a single sustained dose, does not normalize impaired sustained attention and its associated brain network in schizophrenia. These findings provide guidance for developing new treatment strategies for the sustained attention deficit in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-425
Number of pages10
JournalSchizophrenia bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • RVIP
  • cigarette
  • cognition
  • fMRI
  • self-medication
  • smoking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Nicotine enhances but does not normalize visual sustained attention and the associated brain network in schizophrenia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this