Objective: This study investigated functional cerebral correlates of craving in alcoholic patients and examined the state/trait characteristics of the regional cerebral network implicated in craving.
Method: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to map cerebral response elicited by ethanol odor in 10 male patients with alcohol dependence who had undergone detoxification and 10 matched nonpatients. After 3 weeks, during which the patients underwent standardized behavioral therapy with psychopharmacological intervention, all subjects were studied a second time with fMRI to evaluate the effects of therapy on the functional cerebral correlates of craving.
Results: In the alcoholic patients, cue-induced craving before treatment elicited activation primarily in the subcortical-limbic region of the right amygdala/hippocampal area and in the cerebellum. After treatment, activation was found in the superior temporal sulcus, while subcortical or cerebellar participation was no longer present. Comparison subjects showed no comparable amygdala or cerebellar activation during ethanol stimulation and demonstrated no change in activation pattern between measurements.
Conclusions: This investigation points to state-dependent neurobiological correlates of cue-induced craving in alcoholic patients and suggests that these correlates can be influenced by therapeutic interventions. The presence of emotional aspects of craving is suggested by amygdala activation.