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J Neurosci. 2009 May 6;29(18):6001-6. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4247-08.2009.

Dopaminergic response to drug words in cocaine addiction.

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  • 1Department of Medical Research, Center for Translational Neuroimaging, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York 11973-5000, USA.


When exposed to drug conditioned cues (stimuli associated with the drug), addicted individuals experience an intense desire for the drug, which is associated with increased dopamine cell firing. We hypothesized that drug-related words can trigger activation in the mesencephalon, where dopaminergic cells are located. During functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 15 individuals with cocaine use disorders and 15 demographically matched healthy control subjects pressed buttons for color of drug-related versus neutral words. Results showed that the drug words, but not neutral words, activated the mesencephalon in the cocaine users only. Further, in the cocaine users only, these increased drug-related mesencephalic responses were associated with enhanced verbal fluency specifically for drug words. Our results for the first time demonstrate fMRI response to drug words in cocaine-addicted individuals in mesencephalic regions as possibly associated with dopaminergic mechanisms and with conditioning to language (in this case drug words). The correlation between the brief verbal fluency test, which can be easily administered (crucial for clinical studies), and fMRI cue reactivity could be used as a biomarker of neurobiological changes in addiction.

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