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Psychiatry Res. 2007 Aug 15;155(3):189-201. Epub 2007 Jun 19.

Thalamo-cortical dysfunction in cocaine abusers: implications in attention and perception.

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Medical Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY 11973, USA.


Cocaine affects sensory perception and attention, but little is known about the neural substrates underlying these effects in the human brain. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a sustained visuospatial attention task to assess if the visual attention network is dysfunctional in cocaine abusers (n=14) compared to age-, gender-, and education-matched controls (n=14). Compared with controls, cocaine abusers showed (1) hypo-activation of the thalamus, which may reflect noradrenergic and/or dopaminergic deficits; (2) hyper-activation in occipital and prefrontal cortices, which may reflect increased visual cortical processing to compensate for inefficient visual thalamic processing; and (3) larger deactivation of parietal and frontal regions possibly to support the larger hemodynamic supply to the hyper-activated brain regions. These findings provide evidence of abnormalities in thalamo-cortical responses in cocaine abusers that are likely to contribute to the impairments in sensory processing and in attention. The development of therapies that diminish these thalamo-cortical deficits could improve the treatment of cocaine addiction.

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