Counteracting incentive sensitization in severe alcohol dependence using deep brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens: clinical and basic science aspects

Front Hum Neurosci. 2009 Sep 2;3:22. doi: 10.3389/neuro.09.022.2009. eCollection 2009.


The ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens (NAcc) has been implicated in the craving for drugs and alcohol which is a major reason for relapse of addicted people. Craving might be induced by drug-related cues. This suggests that disruption of craving-related neural activity in the NAcc may significantly reduce craving in alcohol-dependent patients. Here we report on preliminary clinical and neurophysiological evidence in three male patients who were treated with high frequency deep brain stimulation of the NAcc bilaterally. All three had been alcohol-dependent for many years, unable to abstain from drinking, and had experienced repeated relapses prior to the stimulation. After the operation, craving was greatly reduced and all three patients were able to abstain from drinking for extended periods of time. Immediately after the operation but prior to connection of the stimulation electrodes to the stimulator, local field potentials were obtained from the externalized cables in two patients while they performed cognitive tasks addressing action monitoring and incentive salience of drug-related cues. LFPs in the action monitoring task provided further evidence for a role of the NAcc in goal-directed behaviors. Importantly, alcohol-related cue stimuli in the incentive salience task modulated LFPs even though these cues were presented outside of the attentional focus. This implies that cue-related craving involves the NAcc and is highly automatic.

Keywords: action monitoring; addiction; deep brain stimulation; intracranial recordings; local field potentials; nucleus accumbens; reward processing.