A new study has pinpointed a different brain response between male and female smokers. A new study has pinpointed a different brain response between male and female smokers. A new study has pinpointed a different brain response between male and female smokers. (Photo: Edyta Pawlowska/Shutterstock)

Did you know men and women respond to smoking differently?

New research from Yale may impact the best ways to quit the habit.

It's common knowledge that smoking is addictive. But how it impacts different people is murkier territory. Researchers from Yale have come up with some answers, and according to them your gender has a lot to do with it.

The study, authored by Yale associate professor Evan Morris, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Morris is currently in Israel on a Fulbright scholarship, where he continues to study the brain’s response to smoking cigarettes at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Morris measured how and where nicotine affects pleasure receptors in the brain of both men and women. PET (positron emission tomography) scans were used to create “movies” of how smoking affects dopamine, the neurotransmitter that triggers feelings of pleasure in the brain.

Specific parts of the brain "light up" when dopamine is introduced.Specific parts of the brain "light up" when dopamine is introduced. (Photo: Yale)

The movies were made of 16 addicted smokers’ brains, eight men and eight women. Each smoked cigarettes while undergoing a PET scan that lasted about 90 minutes. Participants were injected with a very small amount of a molecule that “lit up” parts of the brain where high levels of dopamine were present.

The movies showed smoking affects the dopamine in the brain – at different rates and in different locations – depending on whether the person is male or female. For example, dopamine is activated by smoking in men much faster than it is in women. Dopamine release in nicotine-dependent men occurred quickly in an area of the brain that reinforces the effect of drugs such as nicotine. Women had a similarly rapid response but in a different part of the brain, the one associated with habit formation.

“They are equally dependent (on nicotine) but their brains are responding differently. This is not an event that could have happened by chance,” Morris said.

The researchers believe the findings will be useful in developing gender-specific methods to help smokers quit.

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