Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Pathological gambling is linked to reduced activation of the mesolimbic reward system


By analogy to drug dependence, it has been speculated that the underlying pathology in pathological gambling is a reduction in the sensitivity of the reward system. Studying pathological gamblers and controls during a guessing game using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we observed a reduction of ventral striatal and ventromedial prefrontal activation in the pathological gamblers that was negatively correlated with gambling severity, linking hypoactivation of these areas to disease severity.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Layout of the guessing task and main effect of winning.
Figure 2: Differences in activation between the controls and the pathological gamblers.


  1. Potenza, M.N., Kosten, T.R. & Rounsaville, B.J. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 286, 141–144 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Volkow, N.D., Fowler, J.S., Wang, G.J. & Goldstein, R.Z. Neurobiol. Learn. Mem. 78, 610–624 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Robbins, T.W. & Everitt, B.J. Nature 398, 567–570 (1999).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Blum, K., Cull, J.C., Braverman, E.R. & Comings, D.E. Am. Sci. 84, 132–145 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Knutson, B., Adams, C.M., Fong, G.W. & Hommer, D. J. Neurosci. 21, RC159 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Delgado, M.R., Nystrom, L.E., Fissell, C., Noll, D.C. & Fiez, J.A. J. Neurophysiol. 84, 3072–3077 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Robbins, T.W. Exp. Brain Res. 133, 130–138 (2000).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Rogers, R.D. et al. Neuropsychopharmacology 20, 322–339 (1999).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bechara, A. J. Gambl. Stud. 19, 23–51 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Potenza, M.N. et al. Am. J. Psychiatry 160, 1990–1994 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. O'Doherty, J.P., Dayan, P., Friston, K., Critchley, H. & Dolan, R.J. Neuron 38, 329–337 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. McClure, S.M., Berns, G.S. & Montague, P.R. Neuron 38, 339–346 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Zink, C.F., Pagnoni, G., Martin, M.E., Dhamala, M. & Berns, G.S. J. Neurosci. 23, 8092–8097 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Zink, C.F., Pagnoni, C., Martin-Skurski, M.E., Chappelow, J.C. & Berns, G.S. Neuron 42, 509–517 (2004).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Friston, K.J., Zarahn, E., Josephs, O., Henson, R.N. & Dale, A.M. Neuroimage 10, 607–619 (1999).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by grants from Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, Volkswagenstiftung (C.B.), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (J.G.). We thank the Physics and Methods group at NeuroImage Nord (Hamburg) for help with magnetic resonance scanning and A. Heinz, D. Braus and T. Sommer for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christian Büchel.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

Ventral striatal activation in single subjects (12 healthy controls) for the main effect of winning > losing. (GIF 221 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 2

Ventral striatal activation in single subjects (12 pathological gamblers) for the main effect of winning > losing. (JPG 89 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 3

Areas showing a negative correlation between gambling severity and BOLD signal difference comparing winning to losing events. (GIF 49 kb)

Supplementary Fig. 4

Stronger BOLD signal difference (winning > losing in control subjects as compared to pathological gamblers. (GIF 66 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

Main effects of winning versus losing (PDF 50 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Areas showing a significant negative correlation between gambling severity and BOLD signal difference between winning and losing events in pathological gamblers. (PDF 19 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

Areas showing significantly more BOLD signal difference for the contrast winning > losing in the pathological gambler group as compared with the healthy controls. (PDF 20 kb)

Supplementary Table 4

Areas showing significantly more BOLD signal difference for the contrast winning > losing in a subgroup of volunteers. (PDF 21 kb)

Supplementary Methods (PDF 54 kb)

Supplementary Data (PDF 18 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Reuter, J., Raedler, T., Rose, M. et al. Pathological gambling is linked to reduced activation of the mesolimbic reward system. Nat Neurosci 8, 147–148 (2005).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing