Relapse after initially successful treatment is a significant problem facing the treatment of opioid dependence. Evidence suggests craving elicited by re-exposure to drug cues may precipitate relapse. Attempts to identify neural biomarkers of cue-elicited craving have yielded inconsistent findings. We aimed to apply a novel continuous functional magnetic resonance imaging technique to follow the minute-to-minute evolution of brain responses, which correlate with the waxing and waning of craving. Newly detoxified male opioid-dependent patients and healthy control participants attended two separate, counterbalanced, functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning sessions during which they viewed a 10-minute video (drug cue or neutral cue) followed by 5 minutes of fixation. Participants rated the intensity of their craving throughout each session. We hypothesized that subcortical/ventral prefrontal cortex (PFC) regions and dorsal PFC regions would show different associations with craving reflecting their putative roles in appetitive processing versus cognitive control. Compared with controls, drug cue (minus neutral cue) video recruited the left amygdala and was temporally correlated with craving. In contrast, dorsal anterior cingulate blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal time course was higher than controls only during a period after cue exposure when craving levels were declining. Against expectations, neither the ventral striatum nor ventral PFC was significantly recruited by drug cue exposure. Findings suggest that the amygdala has a central role in craving, whereas the dorsal anterior cingulate may control craving in treatment-seeking patients. Time course analysis yielded new insights into the neural substrates of craving that could objectively validate development of psychological and pharmacological approaches to sustained abstinence.
Murphy, A., Lubman, D. I., McKie, S., Bijral, P. S., Peters, L. A., Holmes, S. E., ... Elliott, R. (2018). Time-dependent neuronal changes associated with craving in opioid dependence: an FMRI study. Addiction Biology, 23(5), 1168-1178. https://doi.org/10.1111/adb.12554