Cue Reactivity in the Ventral Striatum Characterizes Heavy Cannabis Use, Whereas Reactivity in the Dorsal Striatum Mediates Dependent Use


Animal models of addiction suggest that the transition from incentive-driven drug use to habitual and ultimately compulsive drug use is mediated by a shift from ventral to dorsal striatal cue control over drug seeking. Previous studies in human cannabis users reported elevated trait impulsivity and neural cue reactivity in striatal circuits; however, these studies were not able to separate addiction-related from exposure-related adaptations. To differentiate the adaptive changes, the current functional magnetic resonance imaging study examined behavioral and neural cue reactivity in dependent (n = 18) and nondependent (n = 20) heavy cannabis users and a nonusing reference group (n = 44). Irrespective of dependence status, cannabis users demonstrated elevated trait impulsivity as well as increased ventral striatal reactivity and striatal frontal coupling in response to drug cues. Dependent users selectively exhibited dorsal striatal reactivity and decreased striatal limbic coupling during cue exposure. An exploratory analysis revealed that higher ventral caudate neural cue reactivity was associated with stronger cue-induced arousal and craving in dependent users, whereas this pattern was reversed in nondependent users. Taken together, the current findings suggest that exaggerated responses of the ventral striatal reward system may promote excessive drug use in humans, whereas adaptations in dorsal striatal systems engaged in habit formation may promote the transition to addictive use.

Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging