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Neuroimage. 2003 Jul;19(3):1085-94.

Orbitofrontal cortex dysfunction in abstinent cocaine abusers performing a decision-making task.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Cocaine abusers demonstrate faulty decision-making as manifested by their inability to discontinue self-destructive drug-seeking behaviors. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) plays an important role in decision-making. In this preliminary study we tested whether 25-day-abstinent cocaine abusers show alterations in normalized cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the OFC using PET with (15)O during the Iowa Gambling Task (a decision-making task). This task measures the ability to weigh short-term rewards against long-term losses. A control task matched the sensorimotor aspects of the task but did not require decision-making. Cocaine abusers (N = 13) showed greater activation during performance of the Iowa Gambling Task in the right OFC and less activation in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and left medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) compared to a control group (N = 13). Better Iowa Gambling Task performance was associated with greater activation in the right OFC in both groups. Also, the amount of cocaine used (grams/week) prior to the 25 days of enforced abstinence was negatively correlated with activation in the left OFC. Greater activation in the OFC in cocaine abusers compared to a control group may reflect differences in the anticipation of reward while less activation in the DLPFC and MPFC may reflect differences in planning and working memory. These findings suggest that cocaine abusers show persistent functional abnormalities in prefrontal neural networks involved in decision-making and these effects are related to cocaine abuse. Compromised decision-making could contribute to the development of addiction and undermine attempts at abstinence.

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