Computational Psychiatry & Decision-making

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  • doi pdf Self-regulation of the dopaminergic reward circuit in cocaine users with mental imagery and neurofeedback
  • Kirschner M, Sladky R, Haugg A, Stämpfli P, Jehli E, Hodel M, Engeli E, Hösli S, Baumgartner MR, Sulzer J, Huys QJM, Seifritz E, Quednow B, Scharnowski F, Herdener M
  • EBioMedicine (2018) 37:489--498
    Commentary by Kathryn Dickerson
  • 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 examined 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 obsessive and compulsive thoughts about cocaine con- sumption would hamper the ability to self-regulate the VTA/SN activity and tested if real-time fMRI (rtfMRI) neurofeedback (NFB) can improve self-regulation of the VTA/SN.

    Methods: Twenty-two CU and 28 healthy controls (HC) were asked to voluntarily up-regulate VTA/SN activity with non-drug reward imagery alone, or combined with rtfMRI NFB.

    Results: On a group level, HC and CU were able to activate the dopaminergic midbrain and other reward regions with reward imagery. In CU, the individual ability to self-regulate the VTA/SN was reduced in those with more severe obsessive-compulsive drug use. NFB enhanced the effect of reward imagery but did not result in transfer effects at the end of the session.

    Conclusion: CU can voluntary activate their reward system with non-drug reward imagery and improve this abil- ity with rtfMRI NFB. Combining mental imagery and rtFMRI NFB has great potential for modifying the mal- adapted reward sensitivity and reinstating non-drug reward responsiveness. This motivates further work to examine the use of rtfMRI NFB in the treatment of CUD.