Technical advances allowing for the analysis of functional MRI (fMRI) results in real time have led to studies exploring the ability of individuals to use neural feedback signals to modify behavior and regional brain activation. The use of real-time fMRI (rtfMRI) feedback has been explored for therapeutic benefit in a number of disease states, but to our knowledge, the potential therapeutic benefit of rtfMRI feedback in the treatment of addictive disorders has not been explored. This article will provide an overview of the development of rtfMRI and discussion of its potential uses in the treatment of addictions. We also describe a series of pilot studies that highlight some of the technical challenges in developing a rtfMRI feedback paradigm for use in addictions, specifically in nicotine dependence. Because the use of rtfMRI feedback is in its infancy, the work described is focused on establishing some of the basic parameters in optimizing the rtfMRI feedback, such as the type of feedback signal, region of interest for feedback and predicting which subjects are most likely to respond well to training. While rtfMRI feedback remains an intriguing possibility for the treatment of addictions, much work remains to be done in establishing its efficacy.
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