Largely overlapping neuronal substrates of reactivity to drug, gambling, food and sexual cues: A comprehensive meta-analysis (2016)

2016 Sep;26(9):1419-30. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2016.06.013. 

Noori HR1, Cosa Linan A2, Spanagel R2.


Cue reactivity to natural and social rewards is essential for motivational behavior. However, cue reactivity to drug rewards can also elicit craving in addicted subjects. The degree to which drug and natural rewards share neural substrates is not known. The objective of this study is to conduct a comprehensive meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies on drug, gambling and natural stimuli (food and sex) to identify the common and distinct neural substrates of cue reactivity to drug and natural rewards. Neural cue reactivity studies were selected for the meta-analysis by means of activation likelihood estimations, followed by sensitivity and clustering analyses of averaged neuronal response patterns. Data from 176 studies (5573 individuals) suggests largely overlapping neural response patterns towards all tested reward modalities. Common cue reactivity to natural and drug rewards was expressed by bilateral neural responses within anterior cingulate gyrus, insula, caudate head, inferior frontal gyrus, middle frontal gyrus and cerebellum. However, drug cues also generated distinct activation patterns in medial frontal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, posterior cingulate gyrus, caudate body and putamen. Natural (sexual) reward cues induced unique activation of the pulvinar in thalamus. Neural substrates of cue reactivity to alcohol, drugs of abuse, food, sex and gambling are largely overlapping and comprise a network that processes reward, emotional responses and habit formation. This suggests that cue-mediated craving involves mechanisms that are not exclusive for addictive disorders but rather resemble the intersection of information pathways for processing reward, emotional responses, non-declarative memory and obsessive-compulsive behavior.

KEYWORDS: Addiction; Cue reactivity; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Meta-analysis