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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31118. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031118. Epub 2012 Feb 2.

Yohimbine-induced amygdala activation in pathological gamblers: a pilot study.

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  • 1Bedford Veterans Administration Medical Center and Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School, Somerville, Massachusetts, United States of America. ielman@cha.harvard.edu



There is evidence that drug addiction is associated with increased physiological and psychological responses to stress. In this pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study we assessed whether a prototype behavioral addiction, pathological gambling (PG), is likewise associated with an enhanced response to stress.


We induced stress by injecting yohimbine (0.2-0.3 mg/kg, IV), an alpha-2 adrenoceptor antagonist that elicits stress-like physiological and psychological effects in humans and in laboratory animals, to four subjects with PG and to five non-gamblers mentally healthy control subjects. Their fMRI brain responses were assessed along with subjective stress and gambling urges ratings.


Voxelwise analyses of data sets from individual subjects, utilizing generalized linear model approach, revealed significant left amygdala activation in response to yohimbine across all PG subjects. This amygdala effect was not observed in the five control individuals. Yohimbine elicited subjective stress ratings in both groups with greater (albeit not statically significantly) average response in the PG subjects. On the other hand, yohimbine did not induce urges to gamble.


The present data support the hypothesis of brain sensitization to pharmacologically-induced stress in PG.

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