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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Jun 1;109(1-3):181-9. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2010.01.008. Epub 2010 Feb 16.

Increased error-related thalamic activity during early compared to late cocaine abstinence.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06519 USA.


Altered cognitive control is implicated in the shaping of cocaine dependence. One of the key component processes of cognitive control is error monitoring. Our previous imaging work highlighted greater activity in distinct cortical and subcortical regions including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), thalamus and insula when participants committed an error during the stop signal task (Li et al., 2008b). Importantly, dACC, thalamic and insular activity has been associated with drug craving. One hypothesis is that the intense interoceptive activity during craving prevents these cerebral structures from adequately registering error and/or monitoring performance. Alternatively, the dACC, thalamus and insula show abnormally heightened responses to performance errors, suggesting that excessive responses to salient stimuli such as drug cues could precipitate craving. The two hypotheses would each predict decreased and increased activity during stop error (SE) as compared to stop success (SS) trials in the SST. Here we showed that cocaine dependent patients (PCD) experienced greater subjective feeling of loss of control and cocaine craving during early (average of day 6) compared to late (average of day 18) abstinence. Furthermore, compared to PCD during late abstinence, PCD scanned during early abstinence showed increased thalamic as well as insular but not dACC responses to errors (SE>SS). These findings support the hypothesis that heightened thalamic reactivity to salient stimuli co-occur with cocaine craving and loss of self control.

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