Mesocorticolimbic circuits are impaired in chronic cocaine users as demonstrated by resting-state functional connectivity

Neuroimage. 2010 Nov 1;53(2):593-601. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.06.066. Epub 2010 Jul 11.


Preclinical models have consistently demonstrated the importance of the mesocorticolimbic (MCL) brain reward system in drug dependence, with critical molecular and cellular neuroadaptations identified within these structures following chronic cocaine administration. Cocaine dependent individuals manifest alterations in reward functioning that may relate to changes induced by cocaine or to pre-existing differences related to vulnerability to addiction. The circuit level manifestations of these drug-induced plastic changes and predispositions to drug dependence are poorly understood in preclinical models and virtually unknown in human drug dependence. Using whole-brain resting-state fMRI connectivity analysis with 'seed voxels' placed within individual nodes of the MCL system, we report network-specific functional connectivity strength decreases in cocaine users within distinct circuits of the system, including between ventral tegmental area (VTA) and a region encompassing thalamus/lentiform nucleus/nucleus accumbens, between amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and between hippocampus and dorsal mPFC. Further, regression analysis on regions showing significant functional connectivity decrease in chronic cocaine users revealed that the circuit strength between VTA and thalamus/lentiform nucleus/nucleus accumbens was negatively correlated with years of cocaine use. This is the first evidence of circuit-related changes in human cocaine dependence and is consistent with the range of cognitive and behavioral disruptions seen in cocaine dependence. As potential circuit level biomarkers of cocaine dependence, these circuit alterations may be usefully applied in treatment development and monitoring treatment outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / pathology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Cues
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*
  • Rest
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology