Differences in Cognitive Task Performance, Reinforcement Enhancement, and Nicotine Dependence Between Menthol and Nonmenthol Cigarette Smokers.

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Menthol has been shown to target similar brain regions and neural receptors as nicotine, yet the association between menthol cigarette use and cognitive performance remains unknown.

Aims and methods

This study examined differences in cognitive task performance between menthol (MS) and nonmenthol (NMS) cigarette smokers after acute cigarette consumption. Sixty white and black and/or African American, nonabstinent, MS (n = 30) and NMS (n = 30) were assessed presmoking and postsmoking their preferred cigarette on four computerized tasks: Continuous Performance Task (CPT; alerting attention), N-Back Task (working memory), Finger Tapping Task (motor control), and Apple Picker Task (reinforcement enhancement). Self-reported nicotine dependence and objective smoking topography measures were also compared between groups.


Initial unadjusted analyses showed a significant effect of cigarette type × time on CPT speed (p = .042), where MS improved while NMS group worsened in CPT speed after smoking. After controlling for baseline cigarette craving and cigarette nicotine levels, the effect of cigarette type × time for all cognitive outcomes was statistically nonsignificant (ps > .05). However, there remained a significant effect of cigarette type, where MS versus NMS had poorer CPT (p = .046) and N-Back Task accuracy (p = .006) but faster N-Back speed (p = .039). There were no statistically significant differences between groups on reinforcement enhancement, nicotine dependence, or smoking behavior outcomes (ps > .05).


Contrary to our hypotheses, results did not find a significant effect of cigarette type on the change in cognitive performance after acute smoking in nonabstinent smokers. Further studies are needed to clarify the specific pharmacological effects of nicotine and menthol on cognitive functioning.


The current study is the first to compare the potential enhancement of cognitive task performance after acute cigarette smoking between satiated menthol and nonmenthol cigarette smokers. Study results suggest that acute menthol cigarette use may not enhance cognitive function above and beyond nonmenthol cigarettes to increase dependence among menthol smokers. However, the contribution of other psychological factors (eg, craving, mood) and cigarette characteristics (eg, nicotine content) may be involved in cognitive function enhancement to perpetuate dependence and smoking persistence for menthol smokers.





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Publication Info

Jao, Nancy C, Edward D Levin, Melissa A Simon and Brian Hitsman (2021). Differences in Cognitive Task Performance, Reinforcement Enhancement, and Nicotine Dependence Between Menthol and Nonmenthol Cigarette Smokers. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 23(11). pp. 1902–1910. 10.1093/ntr/ntab120 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/29487.

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Edward Daniel Levin

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Levin is Chief of the Neurobehavioral Research Lab in the Psychiatry Department of Duke University Medical Center. His primary academic appointment is as Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He also has secondary appointments in the Department Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke. His primary research effort is to understand basic neural interactions underlying cognitive function and addiction and to apply this knowledge to better understand cognitive dysfunction and addiction disorders and to develop novel therapeutic treatments.

The three main research components of his laboratory are focused on the themes of the basic neurobiology of cognition and addiction, neurobehavioral toxicology and the development of novel therapeutic treatments for cognitive dysfunction and substance abuse. Currently, our principal research focus concerns nicotine. We have documented the basic effects of nicotine on learning memory and attention as well as nicotine self-administration. We are continuing with more mechanistic studies in rat models using selective lesions, local infusions and neurotransmitter interaction studies. We have found that nicotine improves memory performance not only in normal rats, but also in rats with lesions of hippocampal and basal forebrain connections. We are concentrating on alpha7 and alpha4beta2 nicotinic receptor subtypes in the hippocampus, amygdala , thalamus and frontal cortex and how they interact with dopamine D1 and D2 and glutamate NMDA systems with regard to memory and addiction. I am also conducting studies on human cognitive behavior. We have current studies to assess nicotine effects on attention, memory and mental processing speed in schizophrenia, Alzheimer's Disease and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In the area of neurobehavioral toxicology, I have continuing projects to characterize the adverse effects of prenatal and adolescent nicotine exposure. Our primary project in neurobehavioral toxicology focuses on the cognitive deficits caused by the marine toxins. The basic and applied aims of our research complement each other nicely. The findings concerning neural mechanisms underlying cognitive function help direct the behavioral toxicology and therapeutic development studies, while the applied studies provide important functional information concerning the importance of the basic mechanisms under investigation.

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