Limbic activation during cue-induced cocaine craving

Am J Psychiatry. 1999 Jan;156(1):11-8. doi: 10.1176/ajp.156.1.11.


Objective: Since signals for cocaine induce limbic brain activation in animals and cocaine craving in humans, the objective of this study was to test whether limbic activation occurs during cue-induced craving in humans.

Method: Using positron emission tomography, the researchers measured relative regional cerebral blood flow (CBF) in limbic and comparison brain regions of 14 detoxified male cocaine users and six cocaine-naive comparison subjects during exposure to both non-drug-related and cocaine-related videos and during resting baseline conditions.

Results: During the cocaine video, the cocaine users experienced craving and showed a pattern of increases in limbic (amygdala and anterior cingulate) CBF and decreases in basal ganglia CBF relative to their responses to the non-drug video. This pattern did not occur in the cocaine-naive comparison subjects, and the two groups did not differ in their responses in the comparison regions (i.e., the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, cerebellum, thalamus, and visual cortex).

Conclusions: These findings indicate that limbic activation is one component of cue-induced cocaine craving. Limbic activation may be similarly involved in appetitive craving for other drugs and for natural rewards.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / blood supply
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Cues*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / blood supply
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / blood supply
  • Limbic System / diagnostic imaging
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Male
  • Oxygen Radioisotopes
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed
  • Visual Perception
  • Water


  • Oxygen Radioisotopes
  • Water