Published:  2022-06-01

Functional and clinical outcomes of FMRI-based neurofeedback training in patients with alcohol dependence: a pilot study

Authors:  Susanne Karch, Daniela Krause, Kevin Lehnert, Julia Konrad, Dinah Haller, Boris-Stephan Rauchmann, Maximilian Maywald, Hessel Engelbregt, Kristina Adorjan, Gabriele Koller, Paul Reidler, Temmuz Karali, Nadja Tschentscher, Birgit Ertl-Wagner, Oliver Pogarell, Marco Paolini, Daniel Keeser

Tags:  Addiction-associated brain responses, Alcohol dependence, Neurofeedback, Real-time fMRI

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Identifying treatment options for patients with alcohol dependence is challenging. This study investigates the application of real-time functional MRI (rtfMRI) neurofeedback (NF) to foster resistance towards craving-related neural activation in alcohol dependence. We report a double-blind, placebo-controlled rtfMRI study with three NF sessions using alcohol-associated cues as an add-on therapy to the standard treatment. Fifty-two patients (45 male; 7 female) diagnosed with alcohol dependence were recruited in Munich, Germany. RtfMRI data were acquired in three sessions and clinical abstinence was evaluated 3 months after the last NF session. Before the NF training, BOLD responses and clinical data did not differ between groups, apart from anger and impulsiveness. During NF training, BOLD responses of the active group were decreased in medial frontal areas/caudate nucleus, and increased, e.g. in the cuneus/precuneus and occipital cortex. Within the active group, the down-regulation of neuronal responses was more pronounced in patients who remained abstinent for at least 3 months after the intervention compared to patients with a relapse. As BOLD responses were comparable between groups before the NF training, functional variations during NF cannot be attributed to preexisting distinctions. We could not demonstrate that rtfMRI as an add-on treatment in patients with alcohol dependence leads to clinically superior abstinence for the active NF group after 3 months. However, the study provides evidence for a targeted modulation of addiction-associated brain responses in alcohol dependence using rtfMRI.