Resting state functional connectivity in addiction: Lessons learned and a road ahead

by Sutherland et al


Despite intensive scientific investigation and public health imperatives, drug addiction treatment outcomes have not significantly improved in more than 50 years. Non-invasive brain imaging has, over the past several decades, contributed important new insights into the neuroplastic adaptations that result from chronic drug intake, but additional experimental approaches and neurobiological hypotheses are needed to better capture the totality of the motivational, affective, cognitive, genetic and pharmacological complexities of the disease. Recent advances in assessing network dynamics through resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) may allow for such systems-level assessments. In this review, we first summarize the nascent addiction-related rsFC literature and suggest that in using this tool, circuit connectivity may inform specific neurobiological substrates underlying psychological dysfunctions associated with reward, affective and cognitive processing often observed in drug addicts. Using nicotine addiction as an exemplar, we subsequently provide a heuristic framework to guide future research by linking recent findings from intrinsic network connectivity studies with those interrogating nicotine’s neuropharmacological actions. Emerging evidence supports a critical role for the insula in nicotine addiction. Likewise, the anterior insula, potentially together with the anterior cingulate cortex, appears to pivotally influence the dynamics between large-scale brain networks subserving internal (default-mode network) and external (executive control network) information processing. We suggest that a better understanding of how the insula modulates the interaction between these networks is critical for elucidating both the cognitive impairments often associated with withdrawal and the performance-enhancing effects of nicotine administration. Such an understanding may be usefully applied in the design and development of novel smoking cessation treatments.

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