Increased Functional Connectivity between Prefrontal Cortex and Reward System in Pathological Gambling
Pathological gambling (PG) shares clinical characteristics with substance-use disorders and is thus discussed as a behavioral addiction. Recent neuroimaging studies on PG report functional changes in prefrontal structures and the mesolimbic reward system. While an imbalance between these structures has been related to addictive behavior, whether their dysfunction in PG is reflected in the interaction between them remains unclear. We addressed this question using functional connectivity resting-state fMRI in male subjects with PG and controls. Seed-based functional connectivity was computed using two regions-of-interest, based on the results of a previous voxel-based morphometry study, located in the prefrontal cortex and the mesolimbic reward system (right middle frontal gyrus and right ventral striatum). PG patients demonstrated increased connectivity from the right middle frontal gyrus to the right striatum as compared to controls, which was also positively correlated with nonplanning aspect of impulsiveness, smoking and craving scores in the PG group. Moreover, PG patients demonstrated decreased connectivity from the right middle frontal gyrus to other prefrontal areas as compared to controls. The right ventral striatum demonstrated increased connectivity to the right superior and middle frontal gyrus and left cerebellum in PG patients as compared to controls. The increased connectivity to the cerebellum was positively correlated with smoking in the PG group. Our results provide further evidence for alterations in functional connectivity in PG with increased connectivity between prefrontal regions and the reward system, similar to connectivity changes reported in substance use disorder.