Cognitive control of drug craving inhibits brain reward regions in cocaine abusers

Nora D. Volkow, Joanna S. Fowler, Gene Jack Wang, Frank Telang, Jean Logan, Millard Jayne, Yeming Ma, Kith Pradhan, Christopher Wong, James M. Swanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

235 Scopus citations


Loss of control over drug taking is considered a hallmark of addiction and is critical in relapse. Dysfunction of frontal brain regions involved with inhibitory control may underlie this behavior. We evaluated whether addicted subjects when instructed to purposefully control their craving responses to drug-conditioned stimuli can inhibit limbic brain regions implicated in drug craving. We used PET and 2-deoxy-2[18F]fluoro-d-glucose to measure brain glucose metabolism (marker of brain function) in 24 cocaine abusers who watched a cocaine-cue video and compared brain activation with and without instructions to cognitively inhibit craving. A third scan was obtained at baseline (without video). Statistical parametric mapping was used for analysis and corroborated with regions of interest. The cocaine-cue video increased craving during the no-inhibition condition (pre 3 ± 3, post 6 ± 3; p < 0.001) but not when subjects were instructed to inhibit craving (pre 3 ± 2, post 3 ± 3). Comparisons with baseline showed visual activation for both cocaine-cue conditions and limbic inhibition (accumbens, orbitofrontal, insula, cingulate) when subjects purposefully inhibited craving (p < 0.001). Comparison between cocaine-cue conditions showed lower metabolism with cognitive inhibition in right orbitofrontal cortex and right accumbens (p < 0.005), which was associated with right inferior frontal activation (r = - 0.62, p < 0.005). Decreases in metabolism in brain regions that process the predictive (nucleus accumbens) and motivational value (orbitofrontal cortex) of drug-conditioned stimuli were elicited by instruction to inhibit cue-induced craving. This suggests that cocaine abusers may retain some ability to inhibit craving and that strengthening fronto-accumbal regulation may be therapeutically beneficial in addiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2536-2543
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain imaging
  • Cingulate gyrus
  • Cognitive inhibition
  • Conditioned responses
  • Insula
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Orbitofrontal cortex


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