Alterations in resting-state functional connectivity in substance use disorders and treatment implications

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Apr 20:91:79-93. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.06.011. Epub 2018 Jun 25.


Substance use disorders (SUD) are diseases of the brain, characterized by aberrant functioning in the neural circuitry of the brain. Resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) can illuminate these functional changes by measuring the temporal coherence of low-frequency fluctuations of the blood oxygenation level-dependent magnetic resonance imaging signal in contiguous or non-contiguous regions of the brain. Because this data is easy to obtain and analyze, and therefore fairly inexpensive, it holds promise for defining biological treatment targets in SUD, which could help maximize the efficacy of existing clinical interventions and develop new ones. In an effort to identify the most likely "treatment targets" obtainable with rsFC we summarize existing research in SUD focused on 1) the relationships between rsFC and functionality within important psychological domains which are believed to underlie relapse vulnerability 2) changes in rsFC from satiety to deprived or abstinent states 3) baseline rsFC correlates of treatment outcome and 4) changes in rsFC induced by treatment interventions which improve clinical outcomes and reduce relapse risk. Converging evidence indicates that likely "treatment target" candidates, emerging consistently in all four sections, are reduced connectivity within executive control network (ECN) and between ECN and salience network (SN). Other potential treatment targets also show promise, but the literature is sparse and more research is needed. Future research directions include data-driven prediction analyses and rsFC analyses with longitudinal datasets that incorporate time since last use into analysis to account for drug withdrawal. Once the most reliable biological markers are identified, they can be used for treatment matching, during preliminary testing of new pharmacological compounds to establish clinical potential ("target engagement") prior to carrying out costly clinical trials, and for generating hypotheses for medication repurposing.

Keywords: Biomarker; Connectivity; Resting state; Substance use disorder; Treatment target.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging*
  • Rest*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnostic imaging*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome