Normalizing effect of heroin maintenance treatment on stress-induced brain connectivity

André Schmidt, Marc Walter, Hana Gerber, Erich Seifritz, Rudolf Brenneisen, Gerhard A. Wiesbeck, Anita Riecher-Rössler, Undine E. Lang, Stefan Borgwardt

14 Citations (Scopus)


Recent evidence has shown that a single maintenance dose of heroin attenuates psychophysiological stress responses in heroin-dependent patients, probably reflecting the effectiveness of heroin-assisted therapies for the treatment of severe heroin addiction. However, the underlying neural circuitry of these effects has not yet been investigated. Using a cross-over, double-blind, vehicle-controlled design, 22 heroin-dependent and heroin-maintained outpatients from the Centre of Substance Use Disorders at the University Hospital of Psychiatry in Basel were studied after heroin and placebo administration, while 17 healthy controls from the general population were included for placebo administration only. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to detect brain responses to fearful faces and dynamic causal modelling was applied to compute fear-induced modulation of connectivity within the emotional face network. Stress responses were assessed by hormone releases and subjective ratings. Relative to placebo, heroin acutely reduced the fear-induced modulation of connectivity from the left fusiform gyrus to the left amygdala and from the right amygdala to the right orbitofrontal cortex in dependent patients. Both of these amygdala-related connectivity strengths were significantly increased in patients after placebo treatment (acute withdrawal) compared to healthy controls, whose connectivity estimates did not differ from those of patients after heroin injection. Moreover, we found positive correlations between the left fusiform gyrus to amygdala connectivity and different stress responses, as well as between the right amygdala to orbitofrontal cortex connectivity and levels of craving. Our findings indicate that the increased amygdala-related connectivity during fearful face processing after the placebo treatment in heroin-dependent patients transiently normalizes after acute heroin maintenance treatment. Furthermore, this study suggests that the assessment of amygdala-related connectivity during fear processing may provide a prognostic tool to assess stress levels in heroin-dependent patients and to quantify the efficacy of maintenance treatments in drug addiction.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain : a journal of neurology
Pages (from-to)217-228
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2015


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