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1.  N-Acetylcysteine Normalizes Glutamate Levels in Cocaine-Dependent Patients: A Randomized Crossover Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Study 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2012;37(9):2143-2152.
Treatment with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) normalizes glutamate (Glu) homeostasis and prevents relapse in drug-dependent animals. However, the effect of NAC on brain Glu levels in substance-dependent humans has not yet been investigated. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H MRS) was used to investigate Glu changes in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) after a single dose of NAC in cocaine-dependent patients and normal controls. In an open-label, randomized, crossover study, 8 cocaine-dependent patients and 14 healthy controls underwent two scan sessions: one group receiving no compound and the other following a single administration of 2400 mg NAC. The Barratt Impulsiveness Scale was administered to examine the relation between dACC Glu levels and impulsivity. In the medication-free condition, Glu levels in the dACC were significantly higher in cocaine-dependent patients compared with healthy controls. After administration of NAC, Glu levels were reduced in the cocaine-dependent group, whereas NAC had no effect in healthy controls. Higher baseline Glu levels were associated with higher impulsivity, and both were predictive of greater NAC-induced Glu reduction. The current findings indicate that NAC can normalize elevated Glu levels in cocaine-dependent patients. These findings may have important implications for treatment, because abnormal Glu levels are related to relapse, and treatment with NAC prevented relapse in animal studies. Furthermore, clinical studies have indicated beneficial effects of NAC in cocaine-dependent patients, and the current study suggests that these beneficial effects might in part be mediated by the ability of NAC to normalize glutamatergic abnormalities.
PMCID: PMC3398721  PMID: 22549117
cocaine dependence; N-acetylcysteine; glutamate; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; impulsivity; cocaine dependence; N-acetylcysteine; glutamate; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; impulsivity
2.  The association between cingulate cortex glutamate concentration and delay discounting is mediated by resting state functional connectivity 
Brain and Behavior  2012;2(5):553-562.
Humans vary in their ability to delay gratification and impulsive decision making is a common feature in various psychiatric disorders. The level of delay discounting is a relatively stable psychological trait, and therefore neural processes implicated in delay discounting are likely to be based on the overall functional organization of the brain (under task-free conditions) in which state-dependent shifts from baseline levels occur. The current study investigated whether delay discounting can be predicted by intrinsic properties of brain functioning. Fourteen healthy male subjects performed a delay discounting task. In addition, resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (¹H MRS) were used to investigate the relationship between individual differences in delay discounting and molecular and regional measures of resting state (baseline) activity of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). Results showed that delay discounting was associated with both dACC glutamate concentrations and resting state functional connectivity of the dACC with a midbrain region including ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra. In addition, a neural pathway was established, showing that the effect of glutamate concentrations in the dACC on delay discounting is mediated by functional connectivity of the dACC with the midbrain. The current findings are important to acknowledge because spontaneous intrinsic brain processes have been proposed to be a potential promising biomarker of disease and impulsive decision making is associated with several psychiatric disorders.
PMCID: PMC3489808  PMID: 23139901
Anterior cingulate cortex; delay discounting; glutamate; impulsive decision making; magnetic resonance spectroscopy; resting state fMRI
3.  Brain activation patterns associated with cue reactivity and craving in abstinent problem gamblers, heavy smokers and healthy controls: an fMRI study 
Addiction Biology  2010;15(4):491-503.
Abnormal cue reactivity is a central characteristic of addiction, associated with increased activity in motivation, attention and memory related brain circuits. In this neuroimaging study, cue reactivity in problem gamblers (PRG) was compared with cue reactivity in heavy smokers (HSM) and healthy controls (HC). A functional magnetic resonance imaging event-related cue reactivity paradigm, consisting of gambling, smoking-related and neutral pictures, was employed in 17 treatment-seeking non-smoking PRG, 18 non-gambling HSM, and 17 non-gambling and non-smoking HC. Watching gambling pictures (relative to neutral pictures) was associated with higher brain activation in occipitotemporal areas, posterior cingulate cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and amygdala in PRG compared with HC and HSM. Subjective craving in PRG correlated positively with brain activation in left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and left insula. When comparing the HSM group with the two other groups, no significant differences in brain activity induced by smoking cues were found. In a stratified analysis, the HSM subgroup with higher Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence scores (FTND M = 5.4) showed higher brain activation in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex, insula and middle/superior temporal gyrus while watching smoking-related pictures (relative to neutral pictures) than the HSM subgroup with lower FTND scores (FTND M = 2.9) and than non-smoking HC. Nicotine craving correlated with activation in left prefrontal and left amygdala when viewing smoking-related pictures in HSM. Increased regional responsiveness to gambling pictures in brain regions linked to motivation and visual processing is present in PRG, similar to neural mechanisms underlying cue reactivity in substance dependence. Increased brain activation in related fronto-limbic brain areas was present in HSM with higher FTND scores compared with HSM with lower FTND scores.
PMCID: PMC3014110  PMID: 20840335
Addiction; cue reactivity; fMRI; impulse control disorder; nicotine dependence; pathological gambling
4.  Contingency Learning in Alcohol Dependence and Pathological Gambling: Learning and Unlearning Reward Contingencies 
Patients with alcohol dependence (AD) and pathological gambling (PG) are characterized by dysfunctional reward processing and their ability to adapt to alterations of reward contingencies is impaired. However, most neurocognitive tasks investigating reward processing involve a complex mix of elements, such as working memory, immediate and delayed rewards, and risk-taking. As a consequence, it is not clear whether contingency learning is altered in AD or PG. Therefore, the current study aimed to examine performance in a deterministic contingency learning task, investigating discrimination, reversal, and extinction learning.
Thirty-three alcohol-dependent patients (ADs), 28 pathological gamblers (PGs), and 18 healthy controls (HCs) performed a contingency learning task in which they learned stimulus–reward associations that were first reversed and later extinguished while receiving deterministic feedback throughout. Accumulated points, number of perseverative errors and trials required to reach a criterion in each learning phase were compared between groups using nonparametric Kruskal–Wallis rank-sum tests. Regression analyses were performed to compare learning curves.
PGs and ADs did not differ from HCs in discrimination learning, reversal learning, or extinction learning, on the nonparametric tests. Regression analyses, however, showed differences in the initial speed of learning: PGs were significantly faster in discrimination learning compared to ADs, and both PGs and ADs learned slower than HCs in the reversal learning and extinction phases of the task.
Learning rates for reversal and extinction were slower for the alcohol-dependent group and PG group compared to HCs, suggesting that reversing and extinguishing learned contingencies require more effort in ADs and PGs. This implicates a diminished flexibility to overcome previously learned contingencies.
PMCID: PMC4171748  PMID: 24821534
Reversal Learning; Extinction Learning; Alcohol Dependence; Pathological Gambling; Orbitofrontal Cortex

Results 1-4 (4)