Evidence for Dopamine Abnormalities in the Substantia Nigra in Cocaine Addiction Revealed by Neuromelanin-Sensitive MRI.

Recent evidence supports the use of neuromelanin-sensitive MRI (NM-MRI) as a novel tool to investigate dopamine function in the human brain. The authors investigated the NM-MRI signal in individuals with cocaine use disorder, compared with age- and sex-matched control subjects, based on previous imaging studies showing that this disorder is associated with blunted presynaptic striatal dopamine.NM-MRI and T1-weighted images were acquired from 20 participants with cocaine use disorder and 35 control subjects. Diagnostic group effects in NM-MRI signal were determined using a voxelwise analysis within the substantia nigra. A subset of 20 cocaine users and 17 control subjects also underwent functional MRI imaging using the monetary incentive delay task, in order to investigate whether NM-MRI signal was associated with alterations in reward processing.Compared with control subjects, cocaine users showed significantly increased NM-MRI signal in ventrolateral regions of the substantia nigra (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve=0.83). Exploratory analyses did not find a significant correlation of NM-MRI signal to activation of the ventral striatum during anticipation of monetary reward.Given that previous imaging studies show decreased dopamine signaling in the striatum, the finding of increased NM-MRI signal in the substantia nigra provides additional insight into the pathophysiology of cocaine use disorder. One interpretation is that cocaine use disorder is associated with a redistribution of dopamine between cytosolic and vesicular pools, leading to increased accumulation of neuromelanin. The study findings thus suggest that NM-MRI can serve as a practical imaging tool for interrogating the dopamine system in addiction.

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