Use of Real-Time Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Based Neurofeedback to Downregulate Insular Cortex in Nicotine-Addicted Smokers

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


It has been more than a decade since the first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)-based neurofeedback approach was successfully implemented. Since then, various studies have demonstrated that participants can learn to voluntarily control a circumscribed brain region. Consequently, real-time fMRI (rtfMRI) provided a novel opportunity to study modifications of behavior due to manipulation of brain activity. Hence, reports of rtfMRI applications to train self-regulation of brain activity and the concomitant modifications in behavioral and clinical conditions such as neurological and psychiatric disorders [e.g., schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive Disorder (OCD), stroke] have rapidly increased.

Neuroimaging studies in addiction research have shown that the anterior cingulate cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and insular cortex are activated during the presentation of drug-associated cues. Also, activity in both left and right insular cortices have been shown to be highly correlated with drug urges when participants are exposed to craving-eliciting cues. Hence, the bilateral insula is of particular importance in researching drug urges and addiction due to its role in the representation of bodily (interoceptive) states. This study explores the use of rtfMRI neurofeedback for the reduction in blood oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) activity in bilateral insular cortices of nicotine-addicted participants. The study also tests if there are neurofeedback training-associated modifications in the implicit attitudes of participants towards nicotine-craving cues and explicit-craving behavior.