Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 204 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 22-Jul-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 23-Jul-2004
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Cocaine craving activates different brain regions in women

New neuroimaging data show that cocaine-dependent women experience changes in regional cerebral blood flow that are different from the changes experienced by cocaine-dependent men. Cerebral blood flow is a correlate of neural activity in the brain.

Dr. Clinton Kilts and his colleagues at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta used positron emission tomography (PET) to examine blood flow related to drug craving in the brains of 8 abstinent, cocaine-craving women; results were compared with samples from 8 matched cocaine-craving men who underwent the same process. Craving was provoked by mental imagery induced by a 1-minute narration describing past individual cocaine use. The scientists also assessed regional cerebral blood flow when the study participants listened to narrations of drug-neutral experiences.

The researchers found that cue-induced craving was associated with greater activation of the central sulcus and frontal cortex in women, and less activation of the amygdala, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral cingulated cortex.

Both men and women demonstrated activation of the right nucleus accumbens. Perhaps most notable was the neural activity measured in the amygdalas of study subjects; the women experienced a marked decrease in activity, in contrast to the increase observed in men. The amygdala is involved in controlling social and sexual behavior and emotions. The other related areas of the brain are involved in emotion and cognition.

CONCLUSION: The differences noted in this study, coupled with the results of studies like this that more precisely define gender differences in drug abuse, may support the need to develop gender-specific strategies to treat drug abuse.

This NIDA-funded study was published in the February 2004 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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