Researcher Awarded $1.7 Million to Study Smoking Cessation

By Tim Taylor

Merideth Addicott, Ph.D., of UAMS’ Center for Addiction Research, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and laboratory tests to study the tolerance levels of smokers in an effort to gain a better understanding of why some smokers succeed in quitting while others relapse.

Addicott plans to expose the study’s participants to a variety of physically stressful situations, such as measuring how long they can hold their breath or how long they can stand exposure to cold water, in addition to emotional stressors like mathematic testing. The participants will also be asked to work on a math test while undergoing an MRI scan and given the opportunity to decide when they want to quit answering the questions.

The goal of the study is to look into the basic brain mechanisms that people use to tolerate stress while trying quit smoking, says Addicott.

“We’re looking at stress and its relationship to smoking because we know that some people smoke to address stress,” says Addicott, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry. “Stress can come from so many things – traffic, family, work – and stress can really trip people up when they are trying to quit smoking. We’re looking for individual differences to predict who can quit for longer based on distress tolerance.”

Addicott will be using fMRI to study the insula, a relatively small region of the brain used to interpret physical sensations.

“The insula plays a role in conscious awareness of the body, whether something is a good sensation or a bad one,” she says. “We use those same mechanisms to determine if or when we want to go back to smoking, so hopefully this study will help us find ways to support people who smoke as a response to stress.”

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and eight institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community Health Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.