Increased functional connectivity in the resting-state basal ganglia network after acute heroin substitution

A. Schmidt, N. Denier, S. Magon, E. W. Radue, C. G. Huber, A. Riecher-Rossler, G. A. Wiesbeck, U. E. Lang, S. Borgwardt, M. Walter

31 Citations (Scopus)


Reinforcement signals in the striatum are known to be crucial for mediating the subjective rewarding effects of acute drug intake. It is proposed that these effects may be more involved in early phases of drug addiction, whereas negative reinforcement effects may occur more in later stages of the illness. This study used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore whether acute heroin substitution also induced positive reinforcement effects in striatal brain regions of protracted heroin-maintained patients. Using independent component analysis and a dual regression approach, we compared resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) strengths within the basal ganglia/limbic network across a group of heroin-dependent patients receiving both an acute infusion of heroin and placebo and 20 healthy subjects who received placebo only. Subsequent correlation analyses were performed to test whether the rsFC strength under heroin exposure correlated with the subjective rewarding effect and with plasma concentrations of heroin and its main metabolites morphine. Relative to the placebo treatment in patients, heroin significantly increased rsFC of the left putamen within the basal ganglia/limbic network, the extent of which correlated positively with patients' feelings of rush and with the plasma level of morphine. Furthermore, healthy controls revealed increased rsFC of the posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus in this network relative to the placebo treatment in patients. Our results indicate that acute heroin substitution induces a subjective rewarding effect via increased striatal connectivity in heroin-dependent patients, suggesting that positive reinforcement effects in the striatum still occur after protracted maintenance therapy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Pages (from-to)e533
Publication statusPublished - 24.03.2015


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