Functional Neural Changes Following Behavioral Therapies and Disulfiram for Cocaine Dependence

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A growing literature exists on neural correlates of treatment outcome. However, different types—or components of—treatment have distinct theorized mechanisms of action. And it is not yet known how changes in neural activity across treatment relate to engagement in different treatment components. Participants with cocaine use disorders in a randomized clinical trial received cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) plus, in a 2 × 2 design, contingency management (CM) or no CM, and disulfiram or placebo. Participants performed a functional MRI Stroop task, a measure of cognitive control, at the beginning of and after the 12-week treatment. Analyses assessed changes in Stroop-related neural activity within the sample overall and assessed how changes in Stroop-related activity correlated with measures of treatment process specific to each form of treatment (i.e., participation in CBT sessions, receipt of CM prizes, administration of disulfiram pills). Within the sample overall, compared with beginning of treatment, posttreatment Stroop-related neural activity was diminished in the hippocampus, thalamus, cingulate, precentral, post- and precentral gyrus, and precuneus and culmen regions (pFWE < .05). In separate whole-brain correlation analyses, greater reductions in Stroop-related activity were associated with more treatment engagement—“CBT sessions” with the precentral gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, and middle and medial frontal gyrus; “CM prizes” with the postcentral frontal gyrus. Disulfiram “medication days” were not associated with changes in Stroop-related activity. Findings suggest that key process indicators of CBT and CM may be associated with functional changes in cognitive-control-related neurocircuitry.

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