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Smoking linked to attention loss

3rd January 2008

Teenagers who smoke may find it harder to concentrate due to changes in the way their brains are wired, a new study claims.

Leslie Jacobsen of Yale University School of Medicine and colleagues found that nicotine causes the teenage brain to develop abnormally, resulting in changes to the structure of white matter – the tissue through which signals are relayed.

They studied the brains of 33 teenagers whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy. Twenty-five of the teenagers were daily smokers.

They also assessed 34 teenagers whose mothers had not smoked, including 14 youngsters who were not daily smokers.

The findings, reported in the New Scientist, revealed that both prenatal and adolescent exposure to tobacco smoke were associated with changes in white matter in brain pathways that relay signals to the ear.

Greatest changes were identified in the teenagers who smoked, which the researchers argue suggests the brain is particularly vulnerable to the effects of nicotine during adolescence when neural pathways are maturing.

“The new findings show that there is a downstream effect on white matter ? the magnitude of which is pretty remarkable,” Richard Todd at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, told the New Scientist.

“It seems the brain remains vulnerable long into adolescence.”

Earlier studies conducted by Dr Jacobsen’s team found that prenatal and adolescent exposure to smoke were associated with reduced auditory and visual attention.

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