Diminished frontostriatal activity during processing of monetary rewards and losses in pathological gambling


Background: Mesocorticolimbic neurocircuitry and impulsivity have both been implicated in pathological gambling (PG) and in reward processing. However, the neural underpinnings of specific phases of reward and loss processing in PG and their relationships to impulsivity remain only partially understood. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging study examined brain activity associated with different phases of reward and loss processing in PG. Given an inverse relationship between ventral striatal recruitment during anticipation of monetary rewards and impulsivity in alcohol dependence, the current study explored whether a similar association might also be present in PG. Methods: Fourteen adults with PG and 14 control comparison participants performed the Monetary Incentive Delay Task to identify brain activation changes associated with reward/loss prospect, reward/loss anticipation, and reward/loss notification. Impulsivity was assessed separately using the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale. Results: Relative to the control comparison group, the PG group exhibited significantly reduced activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, insula, and ventral striatum during several phases, including the prospect and anticipation phases of both gains and losses. Activity in the ventral striatum correlated inversely with levels of impulsivity in PG participants, consistent with prior findings in alcohol dependence. Conclusions: Relatively decreased activity in corticostriatal neurocircuitry during multiple phases of reward processing suggests consistent alterations in neurocircuitry underlying incentive valuation and loss prediction. Together with findings in alcohol dependence, these results suggest that impulsive tendencies in addictions may be reflected in diminished ventral striatal activations to reward anticipation and may represent targets for treatment development in addictions.

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