Muller-Oehring, E. M., Jung, Y. C., Sullivan, E. V., Hawkes, W. C., Pfefferbaum, A., & Schulte, T. (2013). Midbrain-driven emotion and reward processing in alcoholism. Neuropsychopharmacology, 38(10), 1844-1853. doi: 10.1038/npp.2013.102
Alcohol dependence is associated with impaired control over emotionally motivated actions, possibly associated with abnormalities in the frontoparietal executive control network and midbrain nodes of the reward network associated with automatic attention. To identify differences in the neural response to alcohol-related word stimuli, 26 chronic alcoholics (ALC) and 26 healthy controls (CTL) performed an alcohol-emotion Stroop Match-to-Sample task during functional MR imaging. Stroop contrasts were modeled for color-word incongruency (eg, word RED printed in green) and for alcohol (eg, BEER), positive (eg, HAPPY) and negative (eg, MAD) emotional word content relative to congruent word conditions (eg, word RED printed in red). During color-Stroop processing, ALC and CTL showed similar left dorsolateral prefrontal activation, and CTL, but not ALC, deactivated posterior cingulate cortex/cuneus. An interaction revealed a dissociation between alcohol-word and color-word Stroop processing: ALC activated midbrain and parahippocampal regions more than CTL when processing alcohol-word relative to color-word conditions. In ALC, the midbrain region was also invoked by negative emotional Stroop words thereby showing significant overlap of this midbrain activation for alcohol-related and negative emotional processing. Enhanced midbrain activation to alcohol-related words suggests neuroadaptation of dopaminergic midbrain systems. We speculate that such tuning is normally associated with behavioral conditioning to optimize responses but here contributed to automatic bias to alcohol-related stimuli.