The relationship between reward-based learning and nicotine dependence in smokers with schizophrenia

Ahnallen CG, Liverant GI, Gregor KL, Kamholz BW, Levitt JJ, Gulliver SB, Pizzagalli DA, Koneru VK, Kaplan GB

Psychiatry Res 2012 Mar;196(1):9-14

PMID: 22342123


Cigarette smoking rates remain remarkably high in schizophrenia relative to smoking in other psychiatric groups. Impairments in the reward system may be related to elevated rates of nicotine dependence and lower cessation rates in this psychiatric group. Smokers with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder (SWS; n=15; M(age)=54.87, S.D.=6.51, 100% male) and a non-psychiatric control group of smokers (NCL; n=16; M(age)=50.38, S.D.=11.52; 93.8% male) were administered a computerized signal detection task to measure reward-based learning. Performance on the signal detection task was assessed by response bias, discriminability, reaction time, and hit rate. Clinician-assessed and self-reported measures of smoking and psychiatric symptoms were completed. SWS exhibited similar patterns of reward-based learning compared to control smokers. However, decreased reward-based learning was associated with increased levels of nicotine dependence in SWS, but not among control smokers. Nicotine withdrawal and urge to smoke were correlated with anhedonia within the SWS group. Among SWS, reduced reward responsiveness and increased anhedonia were associated with and may contribute to greater co-occurring nicotine dependence. These findings emphasize the importance of targeting reward system functioning in smoking cessation treatment for individuals with schizophrenia.