Common and distinct neural targets of treatment: changing brain function in substance addiction

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Dec;37(10 Pt 2):2806-17. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.10.002. Epub 2013 Oct 16.


Neuroimaging offers an opportunity to examine the neurobiological effects of therapeutic interventions for human drug addiction. Using activation likelihood estimation, the aim of the current meta-analysis was to quantitatively summarize functional neuroimaging studies of pharmacological and cognitive-based interventions for drug addiction, with an emphasis on their common and distinct neural targets. More exploratory analyses also contrasted subgroups of studies based on specific study and sample characteristics. The ventral striatum, a region implicated in reward, motivation, and craving, and the inferior frontal gyrus and orbitofrontal cortex, regions involved in inhibitory control and goal-directed behavior, were identified as common targets of pharmacological and cognitive-based interventions; these regions were observed when the analysis was limited to only studies that used established or efficacious interventions, and across imaging paradigms and types of addictions. Consistent with theoretical models, cognitive-based interventions were additionally more likely to activate the anterior cingulate cortex, middle frontal gyrus, and precuneus, implicated in self-referential processing, cognitive control, and attention. These results suggest that therapeutic interventions for addiction may target the brain structures that are altered across addictions and identify potential neurobiological mechanisms by which the tandem use of pharmacological and cognitive-based interventions may yield synergistic or complementary effects. These findings could inform the selection of novel functional targets in future treatment development for this difficult-to-treat disorder.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis; Addiction; Cognitive-behavioral therapy; Craving regulation; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Functional neuroimaging; Pharmacological challenge; Pharmacotherapy; Positron emission tomography (PET); Therapeutic intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neuroimaging
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / pathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / therapy