Alcohol researchers localize brain region that anticipates reward

August 03, 2001

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have found that anticipation of increasing monetary rewards selectively activates the human nucleus accumbens of the ventral striatum. Since this brain region is implicated in animal studies of alcohol and drug self-administration, the research may help lead to methods for understanding the biological basis of alcohol and drug craving in humans.

Researchers in the laboratory of Daniel Hommer, M.D., measured changes in blood oxygen level dependent contrast in a functional magnetic resonance (FMRI) scanner in order to track changes in brain activity that occurred while eight volunteers participated in a videogame task involving real money. In this monetary incentive delay (MID) task, participants saw cues that indicated that they might win or lose money, waited for a variable anticipatory delay period, then tried to either win or avoid losing money by pressing a button in response to a rapidly presented target. The researchers examined the response of the nucleus accumbens during anticipation of different amounts of potential rewards (i.e., gains of $0.20, $1.00, and $5.00) or punishments (i.e., losses of $0.20, $1.00, and $5.00). They found that nucleus accumbens activity increased as volunteers anticipated increasing monetary rewards but not punishments. Another nearby brain region, the medial caudate, showed increased activity not only during anticipation of increasing rewards but also during anticipation of increasing punishments.

After playing the game, volunteers rated their reactions to the various cues. Increasing reward cues evoked increasing self-rated happiness as well as nucleus accumbens activity. At the $5.00 level, volunteers who were happiest to see the reward cue also showed more anticipatory activation in the nucleus accumbens. "Our findings provide the first hint that activity in the nucleus accumbens may be related to the types of positive feelings that occur when people expect natural rewards," said principal investigator Brian Knutson, Ph.D. "This is an important step towards demonstrating that the brain circuitry underlying positive and negative feelings may not be the same in humans."

Using a different FMRI task and analytic method, another group of researchers at Harvard funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse recently observed activation of the nucleus accumbens and other brain areas as volunteers anticipated a single level of monetary gain or loss, as documented in the May issue of Neuron. By varying the amount of anticipated reward, the NIAAA researchers extended this work to show that the nucleus accumbens responds proportionally to increasing rewards but not punishments. In addition, the NIAAA study links reward-related feelings to nucleus accumbens function.

"Today's report emphasizes the specific importance of the nucleus accumbens in the anticipation of reward and adds valuable new information toward understanding the role of reward in addiction," said NIAAA Director Enoch Gordis, M.D. "Since craving is a major problem that many alcoholics face on an ongoing basis, NIAAA is committed to understanding brain mechanisms related to craving and developing interventions that can help alcoholics to withstand the urge to drink."

In a given year, about 8 million adult Americans meet clinical diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence (alcoholism) and about 6 million meet clinical criteria for alcohol abuse. At some time during their lives, 13 percent of Americans experience alcoholism and about 6 percent experience alcohol abuse.
-end-
The study was conducted at the NIAAA Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research, Laboratory of Clinical Studies, Section of Brain Electrophysiology and Imaging and will appear in the August 15 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience (Volume 21, RC159, pp. 1-5, 2001). The research report is available online at http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/20015472 after midnight on August 3.

A description of work underway in the Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research and additional alcohol research information are available at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov. For interviews with Dr. Knutson, please telephone the NIAAA Press Office (301-443-0469).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, conducts and supports approximately 90 percent of U.S. research on the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems and disseminates research findings to science, practitioner, policy making, and general audiences.

NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Related Alcohol Articles from Brightsurf:

Alcohol use changed right after COVID-19 lockdown
One in four adults reported a change in alcohol use almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued: 14% reported drinking more alcohol and reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did not drink and those whose use stayed the same.

Changes in hospitalizations for alcohol use disorder in US
Changes over nearly two decades in the rate of hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths from alcohol use disorder in the US were examined in this study.

Associations of alcohol consumption, alcohol-induced passing out with risk of dementia
The risk of future dementia associated with overall alcohol consumption and alcohol-induced loss of consciousness in a population of current drinkers was examined in this observational study with more than 131,000 adults.

New alcohol genes uncovered
Do you have what is known as problematic alcohol use?

Does estrogen influence alcohol use disorder?
A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that high estrogen levels may make alcohol more rewarding to female mice.

Sobering new data on drinking and driving: 15% of US alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol under the legal limit
A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier, found that motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) below the legal limit of 0.08 percent accounted for 15% of alcohol-involved crash deaths in the United States.

Alcohol-induced deaths in US
National vital statistics data from 2000 to 2016 were used to examine how rates of alcohol-induced deaths (defined as those deaths due to alcohol consumption that could be avoided if alcohol weren't involved) have changed in the US and to compare the results by demographic groups including sex, race/ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Cuts in alcohol duty linked to 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England
Government cuts to alcohol taxes have had dramatic consequences for public health, including nearly 2000 more alcohol-related deaths in England since 2012, according to new research from the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Integrated stepped alcohol treatment for people in HIV care improves both HIV & alcohol outcomes
Increasing the intensity of treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) over time improves alcohol-related outcomes among people with HIV, according to new clinical research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The Lancet:Targets to reduce harmful alcohol use are likely to be missed as global alcohol intake increases
Increasing rates of alcohol use suggest that the world is not on track to achieve targets against harmful alcohol use, according to a study of 189 countries' alcohol intake between 1990-2017 and estimated intake up to 2030, published in The Lancet.

Read More: Alcohol News and Alcohol Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.