Behavioural activation system sensitivity is associated with cerebral μ-opioid receptor availability

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Aug;11(8):1310-6. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw044. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


The reinforcement-sensitivity theory proposes that behavioural activation and inhibition systems (BAS and BIS, respectively) guide approach and avoidance behaviour in potentially rewarding and punishing situations. Their baseline activity presumably explains individual differences in behavioural dispositions when a person encounters signals of reward and harm. Yet, neurochemical bases of BAS and BIS have remained poorly understood. Here we used in vivo positron emission tomography with a µ-opioid receptor (MOR) specific ligand [(11)C]carfentanil to test whether individual differences in MOR availability would be associated with BAS or BIS. We scanned 49 healthy subjects and measured their BAS and BIS sensitivities using the BIS/BAS scales. BAS but not BIS sensitivity was positively associated with MOR availability in frontal cortex, amygdala, ventral striatum, brainstem, cingulate cortex and insula. Strongest associations were observed for the BAS subscale 'Fun Seeking'. Our results suggest that endogenous opioid system underlies BAS, and that differences in MOR availability could explain inter-individual differences in reward seeking behaviour.

Keywords: BAS; BIS; PET; carfentanil; opioid.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fentanyl / analogs & derivatives*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Punishment
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / metabolism*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • OPRM1 protein, human
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • carfentanil
  • Fentanyl