Effects of extended-release naltrexone on the brain response to drug-related stimuli in patients with opioid use disorder

Zhenhao Shi, An Li Wang, Kanchana Jagannathan, Victoria P. Fairchild, Charles P. O’Brien, Anna Rose Childress, Daniel D. Langleben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: Heightened response to drug-related cues is a hallmark of addiction. Extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX) is a US Food and Drug Administration–approved pharmacotherapy for relapse prevention in patients with opioid use disorder (OUD). In these patients, XR-NTX has been shown to reduce brain responses to opioid-related visual stimuli. To assess the biomarker potential of this phenomenon, it is necessary to determine whether this effect is limited to opioid-related stimuli and whether it is associated with key OUD symptoms. Methods: Using functional MRI (fMRI), we measured the brain responses to opioid-related and control (i.e., sexual and aversive) images in detoxified patients with OUD before, during and after XR-NTX treatment. Craving and withdrawal severity were evaluated using clinician-and self-administered instruments during each session. Results: We included 24 patients with OUD in our analysis. During XR-NTX treatment, we found reduced responses to opioid-related stimuli in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC). The reduction in mOFC response was specific to the opioid-related stimuli. The reduced NAcc and mOFC opioid cue reactivity was correlated with reduction in clinician-assessed and self-reported withdrawal symptoms, respectively. Limitations: The study was not placebo-controlled owing to ethical, safety and feasibility concerns. Conclusion: Extended-release naltrexone reduces the NAcc and mOFC cue reactivity in patients with OUD. This effect is specific to opioid-related stimuli in the mOFC only. The reduction in neural response to opioid-related stimuli is more robust in patients with greater decline in withdrawal severity. Our results support the clinical utility of mesocorticolimbic cue reactivity in monitoring the XR-NTX treatment outcomes and highlight the link between opioid withdrawal symptomatology and neural opioid cue reactivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-261
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2018


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