Thalamo-cortical dysfunction in cocaine abusers: Implications in attention and perception

Dardo Tomasi, Rita Z. Goldstein, Frank Telang, Thomas Maloney, Nelly Alia-Klein, Elisabeth C. Caparelli, Nora D. Volkow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Cocaine affects sensory perception and attention, but little is known about the neural substrates underlying these effects in the human brain. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a sustained visuospatial attention task to assess if the visual attention network is dysfunctional in cocaine abusers (n = 14) compared to age-, gender-, and education-matched controls (n = 14). Compared with controls, cocaine abusers showed (1) hypo-activation of the thalamus, which may reflect noradrenergic and/or dopaminergic deficits; (2) hyper-activation in occipital and prefrontal cortices, which may reflect increased visual cortical processing to compensate for inefficient visual thalamic processing; and (3) larger deactivation of parietal and frontal regions possibly to support the larger hemodynamic supply to the hyper-activated brain regions. These findings provide evidence of abnormalities in thalamo-cortical responses in cocaine abusers that are likely to contribute to the impairments in sensory processing and in attention. The development of therapies that diminish these thalamo-cortical deficits could improve the treatment of cocaine addiction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-201
Number of pages13
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
Issue number3
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Addict
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • PET
  • Visual attention
  • fMRI


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