Now Zhuangwei Xiao and colleagues in China have compared the brain activation triggered when 14 heroin addicts looked either at pictures of people drinking water, people injecting heroin, or at neutral pictures, such as of furniture. The addicts were both thirsty and drug-deprived, having been denied water for 6 hours before scanning, and heroin for an average of 8.5 hours.
The researchers didn’t find the overlap they expected. Compared with looking at neutral pictures, looking at drug-related pictures triggered increased brain activation in frontal, occipital and cerebellar regions. By contrast, looking at water-related pictures didn’t increase activity in any of those regions, but triggered activity in the anterior cingulate.
The researchers concluded: “Our results show an important role of prefrontal cortex in heroin craving and suggest that heroin craving may involve different neural substrates than do desire from basic physiological drives”.
Xiao, Z., Lee, T., Zhang, J.X., Wu, Q., Wu, R., Weng, X. Hu, X. (2006). Thirsty heroin addicts show different fMRI activations when exposed to water-related and drug-related cues. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 83, 157-162.
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