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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.

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

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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.

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Correspondence to Christian Büchel.

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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)

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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).

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