In a promising breakthrough for smokers who are trying to quit, neuroscientists have identified circuitry in the brain as responsible for the increased anxiety experienced commonly during withdrawal from nicotine addiction.

"We have identified a novel circuit in the brain that becomes active during nicotine withdrawal, specifically increasing anxiety," said principal investigator Andrew Tapper, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts’ medical school.

Increased anxiety is a prominent nicotine withdrawal symptom that contributes to relapse in smokers attempting to quit. The team found that a brain region called the interpeduncular nucleus is activated and appears to be causing anxiety during nicotine withdrawal.

Investigators were intrigued to learn that the sub region of the interpeduncular nucleus is distinct from another sub-region, previously identified by Tapper, where physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea and insomnia originate.

"The newly discovered sub region offers a distinct target for dampening the affective symptoms of nicotine withdrawal," Tapper added.

The team was able to alleviate anxiety in mice by quieting the activity of those activated neurons, suggesting the same might be possible for humans.

The findings show possible ways to treat or even prevent the especially troublesome anxiety symptom in smokers.

The paper was detailed in the journal Nature Communications.