The perception that smoking relieves negative affect contributes to smoking persistence. Endogenous opioid neurotransmission, and the µ-opioid receptor (MOR) in particular, plays a role in affective regulation and is modulated by nicotine.
We examined the relationship of µ-opioid receptor binding availability in the amygdala to the motivation to smoke for negative affect relief and to the acute effects of smoking on affective responses.
Twenty-two smokers were scanned on two separate occasions after overnight abstinence using [11C]carfentanil positron emission tomography imaging: after smoking a nicotine-containing cigarette and after smoking a denicotinized cigarette. Self-reports of smoking motives were collected at baseline, and measures of positive and negative affect were collected pre- and post- cigarette smoking.
Higher MOR availability in the amygdala was associated with motivation to smoke to relieve negative affect. However, MOR availability was unrelated to changes in affect after smoking either cigarette.
Increased MOR availability in amygdala may underlie the motivation to smoke for negative affective relief. These results are consistent with previous data highlighting the role of µ-opioid receptor neurotransmission in smoking behavior.