A Preliminary Study of the Neural Correlates of the Intensities of Self-Reported Gambling Urges and Emotions in Men with Pathological Gambling
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Although self-reported gambling urge intensities have clinical utility in the treatment of pathological gambling (PG), prior studies have not investigated their neural correlates. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was conducted while 10 men with PG and 11 control comparison (CON) men viewed videotaped scenarios of gambling, happy or sad content. Participants rated the intensity of their emotions and motivations and reported the qualities of their responses. Relative to the CON group, the PG group reported similar responses to sad and happy scenarios, but stronger emotional responses and gambling urges when viewing the gambling scenarios. Correlations between self-reported responses and brain activations were typically strongest during the period of reported onset of emotional/motivational response and more robust in PG than in CON subjects for all conditions. During this epoch, corresponding with conscious awareness of an emotional/motivational response, subjective ratings of gambling urges in the PG group were negatively correlated with medial prefrontal cortex activation and positively correlated with middle temporal gyrus and temporal pole activations. Sadness ratings in the PG group correlated positively with activation of the medial orbitofrontal cortex, middle temporal gyrus, and retrosplenial cortex, while self-reported happiness during the happy videos demonstrated largely inverse correlations with activations in the temporal poles. Brain areas identified in the PG subjects have been implicated in explicit, self-referential processing and episodic memory. The findings demonstrate different patterns of correlations between subjective measures of emotions and motivations in PG and CON subjects when viewing material of corresponding content, suggesting in PG alterations in the neural correlates underlying experiential aspects of affective processing.