, Volume 180, Issue 4, pp 612–623 | Cite as

Abnormal frontal activations related to decision-making in current and former amphetamine and opiate dependent individuals

  • K. D. Ersche
  • P. C. Fletcher
  • S. J. G. Lewis
  • L. Clark
  • G. Stocks-Gee
  • M. London
  • J. B. Deakin
  • T. W. Robbins
  • B. J. SahakianEmail author
Original Investigation



There is converging evidence for impairments in decision-making in chronic substance users. In the light of findings that substance abuse is associated with disruptions of the functioning of the striato–thalamo–orbitofrontal circuits, it has been suggested that decision-making impairments are linked to frontal lobe dysfunction. We sought to investigate this possibility using functional neuroimaging.


Decision-making was investigated using the Cambridge Risk Task during H2 15O PET scans. A specific feature of the Risk Task is the decisional conflict between an unlikely high reward option and a likely low reward option. Four groups, each consisting of 15 participants, were compared: chronic amphetamine users, chronic opiate users, ex-drug users who had been long-term amphetamine/opiate users but are abstinent from all drugs of abuse for at least 1 year and healthy matched controls without a drug-taking history.


During decision-making, control participants showed relatively greater activation in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, whereas participants engaged in current or previous drug use showed relatively greater activation in the left orbitofrontal cortex.


Our results indicate a disturbance in the mediation by the prefrontal cortex of a risky decision-making task associated with amphetamine and opiate abuse. Moreover, this disturbance was observed in a group of former drug users who had been abstinent for at least 1 year.


Amphetamine Opiates Abstinence Substance abuse Decision making Risk taking Orbitofrontal Dorsolateral Prefrontal Neuroimaging 



We would like to thank our volunteers without whom this study would not have been possible, particularly those who aided with recruitment, as well as the key workers Nick Schiller and Marion Martin and members of Narcotics Anonymous. We also thank Dr. Robert Rogers for providing the Risk Task and the staff of the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre. This work was funded by a Wellcome Trust Programme grant to Profs. T.W. Robbins, B.J. Everitt, B.J. Sahakian and Dr. A.C. Roberts and carried out within the MRC Centre for Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience. K.D. Ersche received a generous donation for research work on substance abuse from the Fund for Addenbrooke’s and P.C. Fletcher was supported by the Wellcome Trust.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. D. Ersche
    • 1
  • P. C. Fletcher
    • 1
    • 2
  • S. J. G. Lewis
    • 2
  • L. Clark
    • 2
    • 3
  • G. Stocks-Gee
    • 4
  • M. London
    • 5
  • J. B. Deakin
    • 1
  • T. W. Robbins
    • 2
    • 3
  • B. J. Sahakian
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, Addenbrooke’s HospitalUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.MRC Centre for Behavioural and Clinical NeuroscienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre, Addenbrooke’s HospitalUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  5. 5.Brookfields HospitalCambridge Drug & Alcohol ServiceCambridgeUK

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