Visual cortex activation to drug cues: a meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging papers in addiction and substance abuse literature

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Oct 1;143:206-12. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.07.028. Epub 2014 Aug 10.


Background: Although the visual cortex does not typically receive much attention in addiction literature, neuroimaging studies often report significant activity in visual areas when drug users are exposed to drug cues. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to investigate the frequency with which occipital cortex activity is observed during drug cue exposure and to determine its spatial distribution.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search was performed of human functional neuroimaging studies of drug cue-reactivity. Fifty-five studies were used to determine the frequency with which clusters of significant visual cortex activity during visual drug cues versus non-drug cues were reported. The spatial distribution of visual cortex activations was determined via activation likelihood estimation (ALE; FDR corrected, p<0.01) in a subset of these studies (n=24).

Results: Eighty-six percent of studies that reported fMRI results for drug versus neutral visual cues within a substance-dependent group showed significant drug-elicited activity in the visual cortex. ALE revealed clusters in the left secondary visual cortex (BA 19) and clusters in the primary visual cortex (BA 17) that were consistently activated by drug cues.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate that the visual cortex, often overlooked in our discussions of the neural circuitry of addiction, consistently discriminates drug cues from neutral cues in substance dependent populations. While it remains unclear whether drug cue-elicited activation in occipital cortex is related to the rewarding properties of the drug and/or attentional mechanisms, these data support further exploration.

Keywords: Addiction; Cue-induced craving; Visual cortex; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues*
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*