Context: Medication for the treatment of alcoholism is currently not particularly robust. Neuroimaging techniques might predict which medications could be useful in the treatment of alcohol dependence.
Objective: To explore the effect of naltrexone, ondansetron hydrochloride, or the combination of these medications on cue-induced craving and ventral striatum activation.
Design: Functional brain imaging was conducted during alcohol cue presentation.
Setting: Participants were recruited from the general community following media advertisement. Experimental procedures were performed in the magnetic resonance imaging suite of a major training hospital and medical research institute.
Patients: Ninety non-treatment-seeking alcohol-dependent (by DSM-IV criteria) and 17 social drinking (< 14 drinks per week) paid volunteers recruited through advertisements at an academic center.
Interventions: A taste of alcohol and a series of alcohol-related pictures, neutral beverage pictures, and visual control images were provided to volunteers after 7 days of double-blind randomly assigned daily dosing with 50 mg of naltrexone (n = 23), 0.50 mg of ondansetron hydrochloride (n = 23), the combination of the 2 medications (n = 20), or matching placebos (n = 24).
Main outcome measures: Difference in brain blood oxygen level-dependent magnetic resonance when viewing alcohol pictures vs neutral beverage pictures with a particular focus on ventral striatum activity comparison across medication groups. Self-ratings of alcohol craving.
Results: The combination treatment decreased craving for alcohol. Naltrexone with (P = .02) or without (P = .049) ondansetron decreased alcohol cue-induced activation of the ventral striatum. Ondansetron by itself was similar to naltrexone and the combination in the overall analysis but intermediate in a region-specific analysis.
Conclusions: Consistent with animal data that suggest that both naltrexone and ondansetron reduce alcohol-stimulated dopamine output in the ventral striatum, the current study found evidence that these medications, alone or in combination, could decrease alcohol cue-induced activation of the ventral striatum, consistent with their putative treatment efficacy.