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Varenicline effects on Striatum activation to Alcohol salience Cues in heavy Drinkers

Wednesday, November 06, 2013 — Poster Session I

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FAES Academic Center (Upper-Level Terrace)




  • V. Vatsalya
  • R. Momenan
  • M. Coe
  • S. Barlett
  • D.W. Hommer
  • M. Heilig
  • V.A. Ramchandani


Varenicline (VRN), a nicotinic partial agonist approved for smoking cessation, potentially attenuates the motivation for the rewarding effects of alcohol. This study examined the effects of VRN on striatal activation and incentive salience of cues associated with alcohol during reward processing, using Alcohol-Food Incentive Delay (AFID) task in non-treatment-seeking heavy drinkers. 46 male and female heavy drinkers were randomized to receive VRN (2 mg/day) or placebo; following 2 weeks of treatment, participants underwent an fMRI scan while performing the AFID task. Group data was evaluated using Mixed Effect Meta-Analysis in AFNI. Analysis of notification for alcohol reward showed significant activation of striatal areas in the placebo group; this activation was absent in the VRN group. Direct contrast between treatments showed significantly lower BOLD activation in the striatum during alcohol reward notification in the VRN group (p<0.01, k>50, MNI 7, -1, 10). VRN group subjects reported lower feelings of happiness and excitement on subjective mood scales in response to alcohol cues, compared with the placebo group. VRN modulated the activity of neural substrates of motivation for alcohol reward by deactivation of striatal response. Medication repurposing using varenicline for treatment for alcoholism could be targeted towards alcohol reward processing.

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