Bupropion increases activation in nucleus accumbens during anticipation of monetary reward

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2019 Dec;236(12):3655-3665. doi: 10.1007/s00213-019-05337-6. Epub 2019 Jul 24.


Rationale: Bupropion is used for major depressive disorder, smoking cessation aid, and obesity. It blocks reuptake of dopamine and noradrenaline and antagonizes nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. Animal studies showed that bupropion enhanced rewarding effects. In addition, bupropion has the potential to treat patients with reward processing dysfunction. However, neural substrates underlying the bupropion effects on reward function in human subjects are not fully understood.

Objectives: We investigated single-dose administration of bupropion on neural response of reward anticipation in healthy subjects using a monetary incentive delay (MID) task by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), especially focusing on nucleus accumbens (NAc) activity to non-drug reward stimuli under bupropion treatment.

Methods: We used a randomized placebo-controlled within-subject crossover design. Fifteen healthy adults participated in two series of an fMRI study, taking either placebo or bupropion. The participants performed the MID task during the fMRI scanning. The effects of bupropion on behavioral performance and blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal in NAc during anticipation of monetary gain were analyzed.

Results: We found that bupropion significantly increased BOLD responses in NAc during monetary reward anticipation. The increased BOLD responses in NAc were observed with both low and high reward incentive cues. There was no significant difference between placebo and bupropion in behavioral performance.

Conclusions: Our findings provide support for the notion that bupropion enhances non-drug rewarding effects, suggesting a possible mechanism underlying therapeutic effects for patients with motivational deficit.

Keywords: Bupropion; Monetary incentive delay task; Nucleus accumbens; Reward; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / drug effects*
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology
  • Bupropion / pharmacology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Motivation / drug effects*
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Norepinephrine / pharmacology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / diagnostic imaging
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reward*
  • Single-Blind Method


  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Bupropion
  • Norepinephrine