fMRI may predict success of substance addiction treatment

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Measurements provided by functional MRI (fMRI) may provide insight into which patients are more likely to respond to substance abuse treatment, according to research presented at the Society for Neuroscience on Oct. 14 in New Orleans.

The chronic occurrence of relapse among substance abusers underscores the need for improved methods of treatment and relapse prevention. One potential cause for relapse is deficient self-regulatory control over behavior and decision-making, which has been associated with dysfunction of the mesolimbic-frontal brain network. However, the relationship between this self-regulatory brain network, self-regulatory ability and recovery is yet to be determined, Joshua W. Brown, PhD, from the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, and colleagues, said in a press release.

Brown and colleagues used fMRI to examine neurophysiological and cognitive indicators of self-regulatory ability in a community-based sample of substance dependent individuals during the first three months of addiction treatment. They hypothesized that impaired self-regulatory ability and dysfunction within the mesolimbic-frontal self-regulatory network at treatment outset would predict relapse, while improved self-regulation and mesolimbic-frontal function would reflect successful recovery.

The researchers examined participants' risk-taking inclinations through a Balloon Analog Risk Task (BART), a game in which the participants decided whether to add increasing amounts of air to a balloon, gaining rewards until it pops.

The preliminary results supported Brown and colleagues’ predictions. As participants completed BART, fMRI showed suppressed dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) signal in response to negative feedback. These results may have signaled the anticipated reward value of the cue rather than the risk of negative outcome, Brown et al noted in the study abstract.

The researchers reported that participants who were successful in treatment demonstrated a pattern of brain activation across the ACC and medial prefrontal cortex that corresponded with the risk level of BART cues.