Self-regulation of the Dopaminergic Reward Circuit in Cocaine Users with Mental Imagery and Neurofeedback
Markus R. Baumgartner,
Quentin J. M. Huys,
Boris B. Quednow,
Posted 14 May 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/321166 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2018.10.052)
Posted 14 May 2018
Background: Enhanced drug-related reward sensitivity accompanied by impaired sensitivity to non-drug related rewards in the mesolimbic dopamine system are thought to underlie the broad motivational deficits and dysfunctional decision-making frequently observed in cocaine use disorder (CUD). Effective approaches to modify this imbalance and reinstate non-drug reward responsiveness are urgently needed. Here we examine whether cocaine users (CU) can use mental imagery of non-drug rewards to self-regulate the ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra (VTA/SN). We expected that compulsive and obsessive thoughts about cocaine consumption would hamper the ability to self-regulate the VTA/SN. Finally, we tested if self-regulation of the VTA/SN can be improved with real-time fMRI (rtfMRI) neurofeedback (NFB). Methods: Twenty-two CU and 28 healthy controls (HC) were asked to voluntarily up-regulate VTA/SN activity with rewarding non-drug imagery alone, or combined with rtfMRI NFB of VTA/SN activity. Obsessive-compulsive drug use was measured with the Obsessive Compulsive Cocaine Use Scale (OCCUS). Results: CU were able to induce activity in the dopaminergic midbrain and other reward regions with reward imagery. The ability to self-regulate the VTA/SN was reduced in those with more severe obsessive-compulsive drug use. NFB enhanced the effect of non-drug imagery. Conclusion: CU can voluntary activate their reward system through non-drug related imagery and improve this ability with rtfMRI NFB. Combining reward imagery and rtFMRI NFB has great potential for modifying the maladapted reward sensitivity and reinstating non-drug reward responsiveness. This motivates further work to examine the therapeutic potential of cognitive neurostimulation in CUD.
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