Neural bases of risky decisions involving nicotine vapor versus monetary reward

Priyamvada Modak, Christian Hutslar, Rebecca Polk, Emily Atkinson, Lindsey Fisher, Jon Macy, Laurie Chassin, Clark Presson, Peter R. Finn, Joshua W. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Substantial effort has gone into neuroimaging studies of neural mechanisms underlying addiction. Human studies of smoking typically either give monetary reward during an fMRI task or else allow subjects to smoke outside the scanner, after the session. This raises a fundamental issue of construct validity, as it is unclear whether the same neural mechanisms process decisions about nicotine that process decisions about money. To address this, we developed a novel MR-compatible nicotine vaping device, such that access to nicotine vapor could be controlled and monitored. We recruited heavy smokers (Money: 45 subjects, 13 females and 32 males; Nicotine: 21 subjects, 4 females and 17 males) to perform a gambling task with nicotine and monetary reward on separate days. We collected BOLD fMRI data while they performed the task inside the scanner and analyzed it using general linear modeling, with inference based on cluster-size correction. This allowed a direct comparison between the neural mechanisms of choosing and receiving immediate drug vs. monetary reward. We found substantial differences in the neural mechanisms that underlie risky choices about money vs. drug reward, including a reversal of the well-known error effects in the medial prefrontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102869
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Addiction
  • Decisions
  • Nicotine
  • Risk
  • Value
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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