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Original Article
Neuropsychopharmacology (2002) 26 75-85.10.1038/S0893-133X(01)00296-2

Effects of Smoking Abstinence on Visuospatial Working Memory Function in Schizophrenia

Tony P George MD, Jennifer C Vessicchio MSW, Angelo Termine BS, Deanna M Sahady BS, Cory A Head, W Thomas Pepper BA, Thomas R Kosten MD and Bruce E Wexler MD
Division of Substance Abuse, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT USA

Correspondence: Dr Tony P George, Division of Substance Abuse, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, Connecticut Mental Health Center, 34 Park Street, Rm. S-109, New Haven, CT 06519, Tel.: 203-974-7362, Fax: 203-974-7366,


Schizophrenic patients have impairments in cognitive function, including deficits in visuospatial working memory (VSWM). VSWM is mediated, in part, by prefrontal cortical dopamine (DA) function, and dysregulation of prefrontal cortical DA systems may contribute to the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Nicotine has complex effects on spatial working memory (SWM) in animal studies, with most studies demonstrating enhancement of SWM. Cigarette smoking is highly prevalent in schizophrenia, and these patients may smoke cigarettes to remediate cognitive deficits. The present study examined the effects of acute (<1 week) and prolonged (8-10 weeks) smoking abstinence on VSWM in schizophrenic (n = 23) and control (n = 29) nicotine-dependent cigarette smokers during placebo-controlled smoking cessation trials. Schizophrenic and control smoking patients had significant impairments in VSWM compared to non-smoking controls, after adjusting for differences in age, education and depressive symptoms. Schizophrenic smokers who quit smoking had further impairments in VSWM, and control quitters had improvements in VSWM. Abstinence-induced changes in VSWM varied as a function of gender in controls, but not in schizophrenics. These changes in VSWM appeared to be independent of study medications, and smoking abstinence did not significantly alter performance on the Stroop Color Word Test in either group. These results suggest that smoking abstinence differentially alters VSWM in schizophrenic vs. control smokers, and that cigarette smoking has beneficial effects on VSWM in schizophrenic, but not control, smokers.

Keywords: Schizophrenia; Nicotine; Cigarette smoking; Smoking abstinence; Prefrontal cortex; Visuospatial working memory; Stroop color word test
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