fMRI study uncovers neural mechanism underlying drug cravings

January 28, 2013

Addiction may result from abnormal brain circuitry in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls decision-making. Researchers from the RIKEN Center for Molecular Imaging Science in Japan collaborating with colleagues from the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University in Canada report today that the lateral and orbital regions of the frontal cortex interact during the response to a drug-related cue and that aberrant interaction between the two frontal regions may underlie addiction. Their results are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cues such as the sight of drugs can induce cravings and lead to drug-seeking behaviors and drug use. But cravings are also influenced by other factors, such as drug availability and self-control. To investigate the involved in cue-induced cravings the researchers studied the brain activity of a group of 10 smokers, following exposure to cigarette cues under two different conditions of cigarette availability. In one experiment cigarettes were available immediately and in the other they were not. The researchers combined a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) with (fMRI).

The results demonstrate that in smokers the (OFC) tracks the level of craving while the (DPFC) is responsible for integrating drug cues and drug availability. Moreover, the DPFC has the ability to suppress activity in the OFC when the cigarette is unavailable. When the DPFC was inactivated using TMS, both craving and craving-related signals in the OFC became independent of drug availability.

The authors of the study conclude that the DLPFC incorporates drug cues and knowledge on drug availability to modulate the value signals it transmits to the OFC, where this information is transformed into drug-seeking action.

"We demonstrate that in smokers, cravings build up in the OFC upon processing of cigarette cues and availability by the DFPC. What is surprising is that this is a neural circuit involved in decision making and self-control, that normally guides individuals to optimal behaviors in daily life." Explains Dr. Hayashi, from RIKEN, who designed and conducted the fMRI and TMS experiments.

"This research uncovers the responsible for self-control during reward-seeking choices. It is also consistent with the view that drug addiction is a pathology of decision making." According to Dr. Alain Dagher, a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

These findings will help understand the neural basis of addiction and may contribute to a therapeutic approach for addiction.

More information: Takuya Hayashi, Ji Hyun Ko, Antonio P. Strafella, Alain Dagher; "Dorsolateral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortex interactions during self-control of cigarette craving." PNAS, January 2013, DOI:10.1073/pnas.1212185110

Related Stories

Influencing craving for cigarettes by stimulating the brain

October 31, 2011

Targeted brain stimulation increases cigarette cravings, a new study in Biological Psychiatry has found, which may ultimately lead to new treatments that reverse these effects. Cues associated with cigarette smoking, such ...

Recommended for you

Take a trip through the brain (w/ Video)

July 30, 2015

A new imaging tool developed by Boston scientists could do for the brain what the telescope did for space exploration. In the first demonstration of how the technology works, published July 30 in the journal Cell, the researchers ...

Surprising similarity in fly and mouse motion vision

July 29, 2015

At first glance, the eyes of mammals and those of insects do not seem to have much in common. However, a comparison of the neural circuits for detecting motion shows surprising parallels between flies and mice. Scientists ...

Research grasps how the brain plans gripping motion

July 28, 2015

With the results of a new study, neuroscientists have a firmer grasp on the way the brain formulates commands for the hand to grip an object. The advance could lead to improvements in future brain-computer interfaces that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.