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Anna-Maria Kasparbauer, Nadine Petrovsky, Pia-Magdalena Schmidt, Peter Trautner, Bernd Weber, Birgitta Sträter, and Ulrich Ettinger (2019)

Effects of nicotine and atomoxetine on brain function during response inhibition

European Neuropsychopharmacology, 29(2):235--246.

The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonist nicotine and the noradrenaline transporter inhibitor atomoxetine are widely studied substances due to their propensity to alleviate cognitive deficits in psychiatric and neurological patients and their beneficial effects on some aspects of cognitive functions in healthy individuals. However, despite growing evidence of acetylcholine-noradrenaline interactions, there are only very few direct comparisons of the two substances. Here, we investigated the effects of nicotine and atomoxetine on response inhibition in the stop-signal task and we characterised the neural correlates of these effects using blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 3T. Nicotine (7 mg dermal patch) and atomoxetine (60 mg per os) were applied to N = 26 young, healthy adults in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over, within-subjects design. BOLD images were collected during a stop-signal task that controlled for infrequency of stop trials. There were no drug effects on behavioural performance or subjective state measures. However, there was a pronounced upregulation of activation in bilateral prefrontal and left parietal cortex following nicotine during successful compared to unsuccessful stop trials. The effect of nicotine on BOLD during failed stop trials was correlated across individuals with a measure of trait impulsivity. Atomoxetine, however, had no discernible effects on BOLD. We conclude that nicotine effects on brain function during inhibitory control are most pronounced in individuals with higher levels of impulsivity. This finding is compatible with previous evidence of nicotine effects on stop-signal task performance in highly impulsive individuals and implicates the nAChR in the neural basis of impulsivity.

Atomoxetine, Cognitive control, Impulsivity, Inhibition, Neuroimaging, Nicotine
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