Functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain reward circuitry in the human

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999 Jun 29:877:523-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb09287.x.


To produce behavior, motivational states necessitate at least three fundamental operations, including (1) selection of objectives focused on goal-objects, (2) compilation of goal-object information, and (3) determination of physical plans for securing goal-objects. The second of these general operations has been theorized to involve three subprocesses: (a) feature detection and other perceptual processing of putative goal-object "rewards," (b) valuation of goal-object worth in the context of potential hedonic deficit states, and (c) extraction of incidence and temporal data regarding the goal-object. A number of subcortical brain regions appear to be involved in these three informational subprocesses, in particular, the amygdala, sublenticular extended amygdala (SLEA) of the basal forebrain, and nucleus accumbens/subcallosal cortex (NAc/SCC). Components of the amygdala, SLEA, and NAc/SCC together constitute the larger anatomic structure of the extended amygdala. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of humans have recently begun to localize these subcortical regions within the extended amygdala during specific experimental conditions. In this manuscript, two human cocaine- infusion studies and one cognitive psychology experiment are reviewed in relation to their pattern of fMRI activation within regions of the extended amygdala. Activation in the NAc/SCC, in particular, is evaluated in relation to a hypothesis that one function of the NAc/SCC and associated brain regions is the evaluation of goal-object incidence data for the computation of conditional probabilities regarding goal-object availability. Further work is warranted to test hypothesized functions for all regions within the extended amygdala and integrate them toward an understanding of motivated behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / pathology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Nerve Net
  • Reward*


  • Cocaine