The neural basis of gambling disorder: An activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Jan;120:279-302. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.11.027. Epub 2020 Dec 1.


Previous imaging studies suggested that impairments of prefrontal-striatal and limbic circuits are correlated to excessive gambling. However, the neural underpinnings of gambling disorder (GD) continue to be the topic of debate. The present study aimed to identify structural changes in GD and differentiate the specific brain activity patterns associated with decision-making and reward-processing. We performed a systematic review complemented by Activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses on morphometric and functional studies on neural correlates of GD. The ALE meta-analysis on structural studies revealed that patients with GD showed significant cortical grey-matter thinning in the right ventrolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex compared to healthy subjects. The ALE meta-analyses on functional studies revealed that patients with GD showed a significant hyperactivation in the medial prefrontal cortex and in the right ventral striatum during decision-making and gain processing compared to healthy subjects. These findings suggest that GD is related to an alteration of brain mechanisms underlying top-down control and appraisal of gambling-related stimuli and provided indications to develop new interventions in clinical practice.

Keywords: Gambling disorder; Neural correlates; Prefrontal cortex; Reward-processing; Striatum.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Gambling*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Reward
  • Ventral Striatum*